Are your opinions and perspectives are your own? Where do you get the information that influenced them?
When’s the last time your mind was challenged in an expansive way?
What do you actually believe in because you believe it, not because of someone else?
If those are difficult questions to answer, I feel you.
I’ve been living a large part of my life influenced by so many other opinions. That in itself is not a bad thing, but I started to trust other people’s perspectives as fact before I even had the chance to evaluate my own.
When learning about a new idea, I find myself searching for perspectives on Google or YouTube to hear what other people think about it first. And I end up merging myself towards the stronger personalities’ thoughts and feelings about the topic, giving up my ability to process my own emotions.
The advent of the Internet and social media gives us the beautiful ability to access any piece of information you ever want to know. But now we have the problem of information overload, and we’re just grabbing onto the closest one that resonates with us. That’s the hope with creating artificial intelligence and personalized marketing, to embed our preferences into the technology, so that we only get what’s relevant for us.
What’s wrong with that?
Technology companies are getting better at predicting what you like, prefer, and want. It’s a natural human progression. We will only give attention to things we can relate to, that give us comfort.
We want to feel included. We want to be on a team. It makes us feel good that we can be our true self, that we can be comfortable expressing what goes on in our minds. So we live, eat, work, and die for these people.
Congratulations! You have been accepted into our cult-gang-tribe-klan. We only take in people who fully believe in the work that we do, who are like-minded and fully “get it.”
Does this sound good to you? I think it would for a lot of us! It’s comforting to be with people who think like us.
But I’m starting to realize that maybe that’s not what we want. It’s how we get caught up only hearing our own echo, which is all we’ll ever think is true. We get more isolated into small pockets of thought and develop such a strong connection with our group that we think our way has to be the right way and any opposing thought is immediately wrong.
This is the dangerous part. I see a lot of communities stunting their people’s growth by bullying them into a certain perspective. For example, there are some in the Asian American community who would say things like, “Why would you not go out and see Crazy Rich Asians? You’re not supporting Asians if you don’t.”
It’s polarizing and isolating and not an effective way to bring us together. It doesn’t allow anyone to bring in their own views and it limits us from developing a personality that feels natural for us.
The digital evolution is not giving ourselves enough time to think!
To be clear, I’m not blaming the Internet, or social media, or technology for this problem. I’m blaming us. I blame us for not having the courage to express our own thoughts before seeking others. I blame us for siding with “our team” and immediately discrediting any opposing thought. I blame us for not understanding how to use this powerful tool that’s been given to humanity in a way that will educate and help us grow.
Of course we all can’t be on the same page all the time on every issue, philosophy, or psychology. But we also can’t shy away from the things that challenge us. It’s so easy to go-with-the-flow, right? Stay in our lane, follow what we know, what we’re familiar with.
But as we already know, this comfort and complacency won’t help us grow. This avoidance of facing uncertainty is one of the reasons we have our social issues today. We’ve developed a lot of insecurity and prejudices because of our assumptions and unfamiliarity with other people’s experiences.
I could probably write a whole book about this and its effects on our relationships, dating, family, career, leadership, politics, class inequality, racism, environmental issues, and way more. And there are many experts who’ve written on the “echo chamber,” “filter bubbles,” and the “epistemic bubble,” phenomenon, which everyone needs to study up on.
But something that not enough people are talking about yet is how this comfort and polarization affects our emotional and mental health.
Having our own space is comforting. It’s safe. It’s predictable. It’s bliss. Why would you ever want to break that? Why ruin something so good?
Plus, it’s dangerous to open that can of worms, right? We might venture too far into the distance, maybe finding something we didn’t want to find, or putting ourselves in danger, or in a situation we might not know how to respond to.
That’s how I used to think about mental health.
My family never really talked about this stuff. Reflecting back, I don’t actually think they had anything against it, which is rare for any family, especially an Asian household. But for me, it meant I was unable to understand and communicate my thoughts and feelings. I kept hearing condescending messages of mental health in the other areas of my life, which created a stigma around it.
This unawareness developed pretentiously, as I started looking down on people with mental health issues. I felt “normal,” safe, even superior in my bubble, where all my friends and family were as well. Everyone else was considered as “the others.” This disconnected me from people, making them all strange strangers. I didn’t know it at the time, but it explains why I had so much trouble being myself.
This all changed after a close friend expressed that they were battling with depression and it made everything so real. They had a chemical imbalance that prevented them from enjoying anything. It was as if they were numb to all experiences and they felt monotonous, frustrated, saddened, and hopeless.
They kept it quiet for so long, thinking no one would believe them. But when they finally had the courage to tell their parents, that fear was validated when the parents told my friend that they just had to get over it, that it was all in their head.
To be honest, I sided with the parents initially. I believed (and still do) that our minds have so much power and we underestimate how much control we have. There are many proven ways we can train our thought processes to manage negative emotions productively.
But that doesn’t mean we can discredit the emotions, especially someone else’s because how they feel is still real for them. Invalidating the emotions invalidates the person as a human, and in my experience, that’s only going to make them feel worse.
That was sort of an awakening moment for me. It wasn’t until the people around my friend started accepting their illness that they started getting better.
They had some medication and therapy, but the biggest win was having their parents be supportive. They didn’t have to feel alone anymore, or abnormal, or that there was something wrong with them. They didn’t have to be on the defensive, or hide who they are, or feel that they had to shove their depressing emotions away. They can feel comfortable just being heard and given the space to just be themselves.
This is why breaking the bubble and broadening perspectives is so important, not only for mental health, but for all aspects of life. If we can embrace our curiosity, become open-minded, and interact empathetically, starting with ourselves, we can resolve so many issues in either the world at large, or just within those around us.
We can reduce people’s unnecessary suffering. We can help people maximize the enjoyment of the human experience and minimize the doubt, regret, and fear. We can connect with those we care and love for, creating lasting, fulfilling relationships. And all we have to do is reach out, seek to understand, and let them be heard.
“Seek first to understand then to be understood.” -Stephen R. Covey
I don’t have all the answers, I’m no social scientist, but I do believe that emotional intelligence is one thing that will greatly benefit current and future societies. Having a higher EQ world will increase our self-awareness and empathy with one another, which are crucial traits for our species to work together.
Everyone has problems, we all go through our own shit. If we can get to the point where we are more comfortable with our own insecurities to able to share that experience with those around us, we’ll be able to build a safer, more connected place.
There are a lot of intelligent people before me who wrote about strategies to combat narrow-mindedness. But the best two ways for me is summed up perfectly by the author of the The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Seek First to Understand
When you’re attentive, you show that you’re willing to learn and to understand not just what they’re saying, but why they’re saying it. And as you listen more closely, they’ll be more comfortable to open up and share a different perspective that you never thought of, or education that you would have never received had you been distracted.
A side benefit of seeking more information first is creativity because being creative means being able to connect the dots (sometimes from totally different fields of study) together in a relatable, easily consumable way.
Then to be Understood
Put yourself out there, let people know what battles you have to face, even if you haven’t yet overcome them or have an answer. We can’t expect anyone to ever help us, but we also can’t do it all ourselves. Talking about it out loud with someone, even just as a sounding board, could benefit both of you as you both learn about yourself.
There is an art to communication, but a lot of us aren’t taught how to do it effectively and it’s starting to have dramatic impacts on our society. We are afraid to expose ourselves, especially that weaker side of us, whether that be either anyone close to us or strangers in the public.
In order to break out of the bubble, we need to first listen better, then talk better. We need to educate ourselves on other people’s experiences, then communicate our own in a way that people will understand us as well.
Live Independently and Free Everyday
Escaping the echoes and bubbles can be difficult, scary, unpredictable, and maybe even unnecessary for some.
It’s unnecessary for those who appreciate complacency. It’s unnecessary for those who just want to keep their head down, who don’t want to bother anyone, who’s fine with living life by going through the motions.
Escaping is not for the ones who already knows everything, who likes where they’re at. It’s not for the ones who are risk-averse, who can’t handle the attention, the faint-hearted.
But for the ‘crazy ones,’ the ones who hate the feeling of fear, the curious ones, the thrill-seekers, the ones who are not afraid to admit how much they don’t know, you are the ones who can’t just float on by in a bubble. You are the ones who can’t hide in a cave only hearing your own echo. You are the ones who can break free and shout on top of the world that you are ‘crazy.’
I collected 11 exercises that will tap into your own existing wisdom to break free from the doubt and anxiety that is holding your life back.
Originally published at medium.com