Your opinions have often been nurtured over years of paying attention to information that confirms firmly-held beliefs while ignoring information that challenges those beliefs. This is known as a conformation bias.
I recall an event that had a lot of impact on who I am and opinions I hold as true.
I was asked to share a message that I believed had far-reaching consequences around law enforcement and workplace safety. For me, this presentation was of tremendous value.
The individuals I was to present to were a reluctant bunch, not all that interested in hearing my ideas. Some might have prepared to defend pre-existing positions while others were convinced that the “pretty girl in the uniform” would contribute nothing of value to the discussion.
Was this a blatant example of intolerance or disrespect towards me? Or was it more likely a case of conformation bias at play?
It’s perfectly normal to have differing views about politics, lifestyle choices, religion, parenting styles and such. But can you honestly say that you are tolerant if you aren’t willing to accept and be open to conversations with others who may not agree with your views?
When we share beliefs, perspectives, gender and lifestyle, respect and tolerance never come up. Tolerance challenges are reserved for those whom we have decided are wrong or misguided. After all, they are out of alignment with our views and our position is more right.
Sometimes we tolerate things that we disapprove of because it would cost too much – in reputation or career aspirations – to express our opposition outright. Instead, we quietly disagree within our intimate circles while professing large-scale inclusiveness in public arenas. I think this is how I got an appointment with the audience that didn’t really want to hear from me.
So there I was pacing in the hallway, terrified that I might lose my voice, falter at this task and ultimately bear the responsibility of overwhelming failure for the rest of my career. I wasn’t thinking about whether the audience would tolerate a presentation from a woman in my position. I was much more worried about the content.
As I walked into the space with those defensive individuals, I realized they would never respond to a fabulous picture show or actually hear an overrehearsed presentation. They needed a message that would compel them to feel the weight of the problems they would be asked to wrestle with.
Our world is filled with competing interests. Sifting and sorting through these is monumental. We need to rely on individuals with the capacity to shift perspectives through positive emotion. No more hiding out and playing it safe. We need to open hearts and minds, and stop arguing about who is right and who is wrong.
In the next 50 years, I predict we will be judged not solely on what we know but rather who wants to know us!
So the next time you have an opportunity to express your point of view – whether it’s a tweet, a memo, a bedtime story, a proposal for venture capital funding or a presentation in front of many – don’t just communicate.
Stop hiding your ideas behind popular opinion.
Instead, seek to help people fall in love with progressive ideas.
Instead of contempt, embrace tolerance.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.