Combating the Echo Chamber

How assumptions and our environments are affecting the lives of Dreamers

Photo by Matt Kochar on Unsplash

It’s difficult to imagine why anyone would want to deport Dreamers. They’re American in every way except for elusive pieces of legislation, and their contributions to the United States in purely socioeconomic terms are incontrovertible.

And yet there are few widely-publicized posts on social media related to DACA and Dreamers that don’t draw comments from folks who believe Dreamers should be deported.

Here are some responses to a recent post related to DACA from a prominent news outlet in Columbus:

“They have had five years to get their citizenship. They would have nothing to fear had they done what they should have, instead of just take advantage of the benefits.”
“Foreigners know how to play the system…”
“They are not like us Americans and don’t mind sharing a room with others to get ahead in life.”
“These people do not want to be a citizen. It’s far more lucrative to stay with the status they have. They get more free stuff and they are untouchable as far as being sued.”

These sentiments are patently untrue, and it’s easy to get angry at their audaciousness. How can people be so collectively uninformed? Aren’t they paying attention to facts?

There aren’t facts until there are.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re constantly living at the mercy of our assumptions, and those assumptions are often arrived at through our own experiences within our environments. The assumptions we live by are often reinforced by our not recognizing assumptions as such: we have a tendency not to seek out evidence that we’re wrong, and, even when we do, we’re often afflicted by confirmation bias in any research we do perform.

Let’s take a look at a grossly oversimplified example:

As I write this, I assume — as a product of my experiences within my environment — that this post is getting saved by Medium and that there’s a low risk that my work up to this point will be lost forever. Until explicitly stated here, that assumption may have gone unacknowledged, and so I see no reason to research whether there are instances of authors’ Medium posts not saving automatically and work being lost. And even if I did some research, I might look for accounts of the opposite if only to reassure myself that my assumption is sound and thus I don’t need to worry about backing up what I’m writing here.

Like I said, a grossly oversimplified example of an assumption at work, but it nevertheless can serve to illustrate the nuances I might overlook as my activities at this point in time are affected by that assumption. For instance, am I connected to WiFi? If my WiFi suddenly goes down, can I continue to work and have my progress during the interruption saved once it reconnects? What happens if my laptop suddenly dies, or — worse yet — Medium itself experiences some widespread interruption in service?

And here’s the thing: I don’t want to have to worry. It’s inconvenient to think that I might have to check my WiFi, the state of my laptop, and the availability of Medium itself every time I want to write something. It’s much, much easier for me to go with what I know and only really approach a challenge to my assumptions in reaction to evidence presented to the contrary (and even then I might ignore the evidence as a “fluke” or not representative of a “typical” experience).

But DACA has nothing to do with an online writing platform!

You might be thinking to yourself: how does this diatribe on Medium automatically saving work relate in any way to people’s sentiments about DACA and Dreamers?

The two issues really aren’t in any way comparable, and assumptions made about Dreamers are definitely more disruptive and dangerous than assumptions made about Medium, but the same underlying principles apply.

The gentleman who believes that Dreamers “have had five years to get their citizenship” is betraying his overgeneralized assumption about the immigration process in America. He’s assuming that there are viable pathways to citizenship for all immigrants, and that assumption is very likely the product of something or someone within his environment that led him to operate under that assumption.

He’s likely never done the legwork to figure out if his assumption applies equally to undocumented immigrants or to DACA recipients specifically, because he feels safe in that assumption. It’s inconvenient (and depending on one’s confidence in one’s assumption, wasteful) to research counterpoints. And it’s quite frankly uncomfortable: it can result in cognitive dissonance, as your brain tries to sort out what to believe.

So, do the uninformed get a pass?

Here’s where it gets tricky.

Should we react to the very real struggle those with unfounded or incomplete assumptions by capitulating to their resistance to truth?

Absolutely not.

But we should acknowledge the discomfort inherent in being told your worldview is more complex than you originally thought and that certain tenets of that worldview may be incorrect.

In many situations, it seems natural to respond to assumptions that run counter to knowledge with abhorrent shock or in some cases even vitriol, but such responses only serve to further alienate the person whose assumptions you feel the need to challenge.

I could respond to the notion that DACA recipients’ problems would all have been solved if they’d only applied for citizen ship with something like, “What are you, an idiot who doesn’t understand how tough things are for immigrants in this country?”

That’s a quick and easy way to shut down the conversation entirely or have it spiral into a heated argument that probably involves a lot of swearing and name-calling.

An alternative is to ask questions, genuinely listen to the responses, and more gently nudge someone closer to the truth.

Where did he get that information, and did the information apply to Dreamers specifically? Has he looked into Dreamers as a specific demographic rather than as the more general classification of “immigrants”? Would he consider reviewing information from a reputable source that clarifies the difference between his assumption and the reality Dreamers face?

To be completely real about it, you’re likely to fail.

Seriously, having patient conversations about politically charged issues is difficult in general, and I have to be honest that it’s not always possible to convince folks to listen to (or read) reason. People get mired in their assumptions and will often hold onto rigid ideologies and worldview for dear life, and no amount of patient information-gathering will move the bar for them.

If that’s the case, it’s time to move on. Responding even to that rigidity with disdain or “choice words” may alienate someone else who is observing the dialog, further reducing your chances of getting through.

Nevertheless, I can assure you that — sometimes — you will get through. I’ve seen it, personally, and it’s a glorious thing when the truth dawns on someone who otherwise simply hasn’t been exposed to the stark reality that challenges what they’ve previously believed.

A person may not even admit that their gears are turning and processing what you’ve told them, but, even if you’ve convinced them enough to do some more digging and some more talking, you’ll have moved the collective bar on awareness and education by a meaningful amount.

And this is why awareness matters.

The more prominent the true narrative, the more exposed the evidence, the more likely it is that it will have seeped into whatever environments may otherwise be propagating misinformation, misunderstanding, or outright falsehood. That may lay the groundwork for truly productive conversations about why DACA and Dreamers matter and about their contributions to the United States.

This, of course, also means getting outside of our own echo chambers, the ones where everyone agrees that Dreamers should be protected from deportation. It means having potentially uncomfortable conversations with people who don’t agree with us and maybe having some of our assumptions legitimately challenged in turn.

But the potential discomfort, the potential cognitive dissonance on our own parts will be worth it in the end: The more people understand reality, the more likely they are to support legislation and legislators that will promote a viable replacement for DACA rather than Dreamers’ deportation. And legislators will take notice.

Your conversations have impact.

If you’ve found yourself in a sticky conversation or aren’t sure how to track down facts to support Dreamers, please let us know! We’d love to help.

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