It’s Time to Break Out of Our Echo Chambers. Here’s How.
December 14, 2022
In Proverbs 15:22, we are told, “Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed.”
In other words, we are wise when we seek advice from a multitude of sources. There is increasing data that says that we are often subject to a singular point of view. In a 2021 research project by a group of Italian academics, they determined that our choice of social media as a predominant source of news and information is helping to promote increased rancor.
Online polarization, for instance, may foster misinformation spreading. Our attention span remains limited, and feed algorithms might limit our selection process by suggesting content similar to the ones we are usually exposed to. Furthermore, users show a tendency to favor information adhering to their beliefs and join groups formed around a shared narrative, that is, echo chambers. We can broadly define echo chambers as environments in which the opinion, political leaning, or belief of users about a topic gets reinforced due to repeated interactions with peers or sources having similar tendencies and attitudes. Selective exposure and confirmation bias (i.e., the tendency to seek information adhering to preexisting opinions) may explain the emergence of echo chambers on social media.
We live in a time when more information is available to us than ever before, and yet this massive crush of information has led to one of the least informed populaces in history. We do not know how to cipher through the noise of all the news and opinions to determine what is right and what is wrong. Social media network algorithms are set up so that we increasingly only hear from people who are like us, and we are even self-selecting, now, friendships and religious communities that only share our political views. All of this means that we have failed to follow the old biblical admonition that we seek our news (wisdom) from multiple sources. We are not receiving the benefit of wisdom that comes from “many advisers” and as a result, we are fracturing.
It is time for those of us who care, not just about knowledge but truth, invest the time to seek out more than just our usual echo chambers. This means that, yes, you will need to consider voices that you disagree with. None of us are right all the time, and none of us are wrong all the time. We can and should seek wisdom from each other, even the folks who we often disagree with.
Mahatma Ghandi was once asked by Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones how Jones and other Christians could “make Christianity more naturalized in India, not a foreign thing, identified with a foreign government, but a part of the national life.”
Ghandi, a Hindu, said this,
First, I would suggest that all of you Christians, missionaries, and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, Practise your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, Emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, Study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.
It’s not insignificant that Ghandi, a Hindu, had good wisdom for Jones, a Christian missionary, about how to more effectively go about Jones’ Christian task. There is wisdom in “many advisers.”
The thing is, listening to others and learning from those you disagree with is not that easy in our current cultural moment. As I stated before, even our systems and networks are conspiring to keep us in the echo chamber. If we want to break out, we have to do it on purpose. You and I have to stop living by just taking whatever comes in front of us, and we have to intentionally seek out outside opinions. Watch the news channel that you often disregard. Read a blog post, or a book, from an author you would not normally read. Pick up the phone and call someone from the local church, synagogue or masjid that you have never interacted with, and take them to dinner.
Breaking out of the echo chamber will not happen by accident, and it will not happen without strength of purpose. So, purpose yourself. Break out. And see if that ancient biblical wisdom from Proverbs 15:22 might not just prove to be true.
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