The question that reveals why liberals need to reach out and listen to everyone
The top objection against my business is incredibly revealing.
I run the Echo Chamber Club — a site where we try to help liberal and progressives understand different points of view.
And this is the number one question I am asked:
“Why are you doing this for us?? Surely it’s the other side who needs to get out of their echo-chamber and understand different points of view??”
I’m not joking. I’ve been asked it by all sorts — from academics to journalists to friends to business people.
Which ironically reinforces EXACTLY why the Echo Chamber Club is required and why it is aimed at liberal and progressives. It shows that no one believes that it could be them that has a problem.
The serious answer
Of course, whenever I am asked this question, I don’t answer like the above (at least not straight away). Instead, I offer these reasons why I personally set up the ECC to be aimed at my own peer group, instead of another one.
1. I’m not part of the conservative echo-chamber
The first step in my work is understand the points of view that my audience generally has. I must read the articles read by my target group, watch the TV programmes and Youtube videos and laugh at the memes circulated on social media. I must have an innate idea of where the taboos lie. This all equates to understanding the nuances of the culture that my peer group is in and the language that we use.
There is no way that I would be able to do this for a conservative audience. I would not be able to show them a different perspective because I don’t know what a different perspective truly is. The service wouldn’t be helpful. It would be patronising.
2. It’s easy to change yourself, it’s much harder to change others
Ok, it’s not easy to change yourself. But it’s something that you can set out to do and achieve results in a smaller space of time. Sending out a weekly newsletter to people with different points of view was something I originally wanted to task myself with doing. If my friends couldn’t tell me why other people voted for Brexit, then who could? How could I ensure that I was changing my perspective every day?
The first step to remedying a problem is recognising you have a problem in the first place.
3. Even if conservatives need a service like the ECC — does that necessarily mean that liberals don’t need it?
When you phrase the question like this then it seems fairly peculiar that I’m asked it at all. I’m not the person who is best equipped to provide a service like the ECC for conservative people. But I’m fairly sure there is someone out there. I would love to have a chat with the person who would like to explore the idea.
You could also look at why echo-chambers, fake news and the role of Facebook have turned into such a big talking point for our group recently. It’s because we were shocked by recent political events. Few of us predicted the rise of Trump nor Brexit, and this crisis has inspired us into action. We are definitely talking about the lack of information in these terms, so let us do something to remedy it.
You must view others as ‘truth-seekers’
Kris De Meyer, a computational neuroscientist who researches how the brain behaves when we believe we are looking at the truth, spoke at Names Not Numbers a couple of weeks ago and gave a presentation. He’s produced a documentary following the lives of the educated people who believed the world was going to end on 21 May 2011.
He noted that we have the feeling of knowing that we’re right. This feeling fuels our most polarised debates and conflicts. We rarely resolve these debates and, paradoxically, the more we argue the more convinced we may become.
He believes that we must view everyone has a ‘truth-seeker’, instead of an idiot. When we recognise that everyone is searching for truth, then it humanizes people who seem to stand in contrast to us. This framing helps us empathise.
Something similar was said when I was chatting to a Christian Democrat from Texas this week. She said; “I’ve met both open-minded Republicans and I’ve also met open-minded Democrats”. One side doesn’t have a monopoly on tolerance and empathy.
We simply believe we are better at listening that we actually are.
In a world where it seems everyone is going insane — perhaps it’s time to look inwards and ask yourself whether the insanity in part sits with you.
At least that way you can have some control over changing the world.
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Alice Thwaite is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Echo Chamber Club — a weekly newsletter that challenges educated metropolitans to read views that differ from their own. Click here to subscribe.
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