Thanks to modern communication technology, we seem to be surrounded by countless people shouting at us all the time. This has created one of the great ironies of our time: despite the fact that we can connect to more people no matter how distant, we often feel more isolated than ever.
We’re bombarded by loud voices insisting we need to listen “RIGHT NOW” because it’s “VERY IMPORTANT!” Or, more depressingly, we’re warned that “you have to listen because there’s DANGER! You have to hear about the newest disease, the latest scam, the most recent tragedy!”
All this shouting leads to stimulation overload. It makes us want to stop listening, because it’s either just too much to process or seems to be little more than fear mongering.
There’s a difference between critical thought and automatic cynical dismissal of ideas. (Click to Tweet this!)
The urge to tune out is a problem, because isolating ourselves can mean we miss out on good information and beneficial relationships. And, as social creatures, there are harmful side effects of isolation, self-imposed or otherwise.
Trust me, there are times when I want to shut out all the noise too. But we shouldn’t totally dismiss what others say, because we may be ignoring potentially helpful information and experiences.
Turn On, Tune In, But Don’t Drop Out
Another side effect of having effectively limitless information at our fingertips is our modern cynicism. Too often, we think we know the “whole story” just because we can Google it or we heard it from our favorite (biased) news outlet.
As a result, many of us have a tendency to consider new information as immediately suspect, before we take time to think about it. Even worse, we may totally dismiss it as worthless if we don’t like the source.
Are we well-informed today? Sure, we know a lot. But when we start believing we know everything, even the motives of others, we reduce our capacity to connect. We stop taking chances, and therefore run the risk of sabotaging our own growth.
So here’s a “Hero Challenge” for you: the next time you feel the urge to ignore something that you find objectionable, don’t prejudge. Actually listen. Give the idea, and the person proposing it, the benefit of the doubt.
The Cautiously Open Mind
Let’s be clear: I’m not suggestion you blindly believe in everything you hear. Rather, I’m asking you to remember the difference between critical thinking and automatic cynical dismissal of new ideas.
You should definitely be careful when listening to others. But don’t be so overly cautious that you close your ears and mind to everything indiscriminately.
I suggest having a cautiously open mind, which gives information and circumstances the benefit of the doubt while you think things through. The human mind is great at simultaneously considering two (or more) contradictory ideas for a reason: to allow us to explore possibilities.
Think of competing ideas as the mental equivalent of Schrödinger’s Cat: all possibilities are both “true” and “untrue” until you decide which is best for you.
Of course there’s always a chance that someone wants to lead you astray for their own gain. But don’t let your wariness make you miss the chance that some of the world’s countless voices may actually want to help you.
Ultimately, it’s a responsibility of open-minded people to teach open-mindedness by example. We must be willing to lead the charge toward a truly connected world.