Opinion: Echo chambers get you nowhere

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Cameron Gorman

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to surround yourself with things you already believe in. If you’re liberal, you can read only liberal sites. If you’re conservative, you can follow only conservatives on Twitter. Or you can choose to buck all that and stay in a safer corner of the internet altogether, one where political talk isn’t tolerated on the message boards.

The same thing goes for your comfort levels — it’s become more acceptable to stay in on Friday nights and watch Netflix rather than to go out. Although I am a fan of that part, in today’s world, you have to go out of your way to expand yourself. Nothing is coming in through the window anymore, or at least much more rarely. The hyper-availability of the internet is a screen.

You could probably stay in one corner for the rest of your days, if that’s what you wanted, refusing to hear any counter argument or different point of view. You could dismiss everything else as invalid, proclaim your opinion as the rule. That kind of thinking goes down easy — I’ve done it before. I’m sure you have, too. When you believe in something so strongly that you can feel it in your toes, it’s hard to hear the other side of the story.

That’s not to say, of course, that it’s a bad thing to care about something. A world without passion would be — well, okay, it’d be passionless. So, yes, be heartfelt! Care about something! But be willing to listen, too. When someone is willing to listen, to be calm and introspective, it can inform their opinion to an even greater degree.

One must be willing to understand one’s enemies — understanding them is the first step to not having them. Of course, not all things can be compromised on, but understanding the other side of the problem can shed light on why there’s even a problem in the first place. If someone is unwilling to at least hear the opposition — if they won’t even consider that some of their own beliefs may not be fully informed — then perhaps action is better than simply listening. But until that person demonstrates an unwillingness to understand, there is no reason not to engage with them, to start a dialogue and to then offer your own opinion and thoughts. And, on a less hypothetical plane, there’s no reason not to push yourself out of your comfort zone, whether that means speaking, reading, or simply going out to listen to a group of people you might otherwise never have heard.

I recently attended a poetry slam at a New York poetry cafe. I stood in line in the light-polluted night, nervous. I debated whether I should walk away. This place, this atmosphere, this kind of poetry and art was so far from what I was used to. I couldn’t belong here, I thought. But before I had too much of a chance to think myself into a hole, my friend showed up. We went in, and, by the end of the night, I found myself completely at the mercy of the energy in the room. If my day had been granola, this place was Valentina. I don’t know if I fit in there, but I did stay for the open mic, where I got up and read my first East Village poem. The sound of my voice in that room, as it nearly always sounds when I read, was wavering. But, man, it would’ve been so much harder for me that night if no one else was there to hear it.

Cameron Gorman is a columnist. Contact her at [email protected].