The Threat of Righteousness

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Let’s talk about the danger of ‘Echo Chambers’ and how to break through them.

Diversity can be a divisive topic.  With claims of ‘Reverse Discrimination’ and statements like ‘All lives matter!”, the conversation can often deteriorate.   The temptation to be dogmatic and fall back the righteousness of our own position can stand in the way of productive dialogue.

So how can we get past the mudslinging and entrenchment (on both sides!) in order to create a movement that hears and acknowledges all voices?

The trouble with Echo Chambers

In his book Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed explains the term Echo Chambers not simply as communities subject to ‘confirmation bias’ (i.e. when members hear and see only what they believe – and no other information that could, if heard,  dispel some of the data that accompanies the bias).  Syed explains that, in order for an Echo Chamber to exist, that community’s belief must actively undermine the trustworthiness of any outsiders who don’t subscribe to that same belief.  In other words, Echo Chambers exist when one community distrusts anything that is said that is contrary to its beliefs.  Think of the Brexit topic, for instance.  Regardless of what side of that argument you are, whatever argument or fact the other side might present to you is typically discredited, regardless of how true or factual it may be.  Similarly, think of Trump loyalists and critics.  I honestly cannot think of one thing that one side can say to win over someone from the opposing side.

The issue at the very heart of all of this is trust – or rather, lack of trust.  So long as one side believes that the other side’s motivation is self-serving or wrong, it will ignore or devalue any statement – regardless of how factual it may be.

So how do we overcome it?  The answer is obvious:  we need to build trust between camps.  How do we do that?  There are lots of ways of doing this, but the very simple and impactful one is to acknowledge that each person is entitled to their view – and then listen.

Our very own Communications expert Jayne Constantinis runs workshops on this topic, and has created a very helpful acronym that helps us remember how we can speak with others who espouse very different views from our own.

The acronym is RATIO:

R stands for the Right to an opinion.  This is based on the philosophy that no opinion is wrong.  Every person has reached their opinion by growing through their own life experiences – and given how different life experiences are, it shouldn’t be surprising that people will also have different views.  On this basis, and while we may very much dislike it, we do have to admit that every person is entitled to their view.    This is also consistent with being inclusive – we can’t be inclusive only when it suits us or doesn’t violate our own values.  Inclusion is about respecting everyone – even those who make it difficult for us.

A stands for Ask.  This is the first step in engaging the person in conversation.  We can ask the person about their views.  Ask them to clarify their perspective, put it in context, explain how they formed their opinion.  This is an excellent time to practice what we preach and simply listen.  As we listen, we validate the speaker.  And trust begins to build, because now, we are no longer just dismissing them as wrong or, worse, insignificant.  Quite the contrary; we are interested in how they reached their opinion and we want to hear more.

T stands for Think.  Now we’re processing what they say, clarifying it further and probing.  As we try to understand, we might ask them to compare it to something else or apply their argument to a different set of facts.  This is when we also offer a friendly challenge, that may be rebuked, or provide an opportunity to come to an agreement on a particular point.  More trust develops.

I stands for Inform.  You’re now sharing your thoughts and perspectives, while it’s their turn to grant you the very courtesy you just granted them.  Trust continues to build.

O stands for Offer.  We are now ready to build a bridge.  It can be in the form of ‘agreeing to disagree’ or to offer to send an informative article or link to some more information, or to read up on something they said.

Whatever it is, the Offer paves the way for a path you can now walk together.  And, in doing so, you have created a foundation for collaboration that chips away at the walls of the echo chamber in which both people were sturdily ensconced – until now.

The most difficult part about inclusion is in fact this.  There are many views in life with which I disagree, but I try hard to understand how they people who espouse them may have reached them.  Until more of us can do this, we will not overcome the many challenges that face our society.

To learn more techniques on how to talk to people with whom you disagree – either with Jayne, myself or another of our very expert associates – please get in touch.