Seek opposing perspectives for growth through opposition

Your opinions aren’t facts. No matter how much you may believe them to be.

The New Yorker, Michael Maslin. May 26, 2014

I recently saw a New Yorker cartoon that showed two cavepeople, a man and a woman, carrying rocks up a hill. The man was carrying two rocks and the woman was carrying one. The caption read, “The problem? The problem is that, for every rock I earn doing the same work as you, you earn two rocks.”

I showed the comic to two of my female, professed-feminist coworkers, and they had the same interpretation: the comic was an indictment of the gender pay gap. The woman is hauling herself up the hill, keeping time with the man, holding an oversized boulder. When she gets to the top of the hill, her pile will always be increasingly smaller than the man’s pile, even though she’s taking the same amount of trips.

When I first saw the cartoon on my page-a-day tear-away calendar, I had an immediate “that’s so true!” reaction. I didn’t notice the genders of the cavepeople until I had already ripped it off and tacked it up in my cubicle. I simply saw two people, one doing more work than the other. One was carrying two rocks per trip; the other was carrying one. Naturally, by the time the two-rock carrier was finished, there were more rocks in his pile. Yet the one-rock carrier was protesting. “Doing the same work as you,” she says. But is she doing the same work? She’s carrying only one rock. To me, the cartoon wasn’t an “equal pay for equal work” situation. In my mind, I saw the entitlement I see every day in the workplace.

A cartoon can have an intended meaning, but its larger purpose is debate. The purpose of debate is to speak openly about one’s existing opinions, allow for critical thinking, and introduce new knowledge that can further shape or even change those existing opinions. In today’s world, it seems there’s no room for debate. There’s only my opinion and your opinion, right and wrong, black and white.

I’m barraged with political opinions every time I open Facebook, even if I’m just there to check a notification. I occasionally meander into a political conversation at work, despite the cardinal “no politics at work” rule. Even this football season featured political undertones. It’s unavoidable; it seems every topic of conversation is tinged with Trump. The problem with these encounters isn’t that coworkers and friends have opinions, it’s that many of them have a hard time differentiating opinions from facts and truth from bias, and don’t want to put forth the effort required to do so.

Treating your own personal opinion as fact and seeking only the facts that align with your pre-existing perspectives are the most stagnating things a person can do. It’s easy to delete opposition from your social media accounts and pretend those thoughts don’t exist. It’s easy to find an article that aligns with your opinions. It’s easy to consume media sources that support what you already believe. The New York Times recently analyzed a Chartbeat study that found readers tend to avoid the news they don’t want to hear. We seek information that is consistent with our existing political ideologies. Got liberal views? Renew your Washington Post subscription, watch Saturday Night Live for more than the laughs, and follow Buzzfeed on Twitter. It’s easy for conservatives, too, from Fox News to the omnipresent Rush Limbaugh.

Growth can’t take place with this approach. From media to friends and family, we have to be open to others’ perspectives and thoughts. When I told those coworkers about my interpretation of the New Yorker cartoon, I wasn’t met with an enlightening counter argument or discussion. I received a conversation-deadening “no, that’s wrong.” It’s a small-scale example, but even something as simple as pulling absolute truth from a cartoon can metastasize into an everyday approach.

We all have a bias, and we all want our opinions to be the truth. We must acknowledge that fact, and actively work against it through the intake of opposing opinions, and more importantly, opposing facts. It’s not the easy approach, but it’s the only way to progress as a society in an increasingly polarized world.