If you seek clarity, you must contrast ideas and opinions.
It’s an early January morning. We’ve just had a light dusting of snow. Behind my house is a wooded ravine that deer use in their travels and to get out of the wind on blustery days. Even in the dead of winter, when trees are devoid of leaves, it’s difficult to see the deer because they blend into earthen tones of ground and dead leaves.
Yet on mornings like this, with just a light dusting of snow, they are readily visible. It’s the contrast of the white of the snow and the brown tones of earth and dead leaves that enable me to see them clearly.
Divisiveness: a lack of clarity
This insight reminded me of why we, as a global community, are so divisive: we fail to seek clarity. We fail to explore contrasting ideas and opinions. Instead we accept, without challenge, ideas that affirm our beliefs and dismiss those that don’t.
It’s an easy trap into which to fall. We all want to believe that we’re right, that our conclusions are well-reasoned and beyond reproach. The reality is that there is validity in all perspectives. I had the good fortune to learn this lesson early in life when one of my college instructors had us write on any controversial issue we chose, then had us write the opposing viewpoint. This simple exercise opened my eyes to the fact that greater clarity is gained with the exploration of contrasting ideas.
When you find yourself forming an opinion, or making a judgment, without the benefit of further exploration, stop. Remind yourself that you’re doing so because it’s what you want to believe. Then focus your attention on exploring the contrasting viewpoints in search of validity in the opposing positions.
This is NOT a time-consuming effort. We possess the mental capacity to quickly discern whether or not a contrasting perspective has validity. But we must do so with an open mind…without judgment formed of our natural bias. And, yes, we all have bias; myself included.
The simple act of setting aside our emotional reaction to what we see or hear, followed quickly by an examination of contrasting ideas and opinions, enables us to gain greater clarity and find common ground on which to collaborate. In other words, we work toward narrowing the gap instead of expanding it which is what divisiveness does.
Very quickly, you’ll find that the insights gained from this simple exercise not only gives you greater clarity, but it fuels your interest in learning more about anything you encounter. Learning new things, gaining new insights and, thus, becoming more capable in dealing with whatever life sends our way are sources of joy, confidence and excitement about life. That’s a lot of benefit from a few minutes expended gaining clarity by pursuing contrasting viewpoints.
For our kids
As you see the kids in your life accepting what they see or hear without having explored contrasting viewpoints, ask them “What would make that viewpoint valid? Under what circumstances could the opposing view make sense?”
These simple questions will help them see, as my instructor’s exercise did, that nothing is as clear cut or completely valid in all situations as we’d like to think. As they gain this insight, they, like me, will begin to challenge what they see and hear with an eye to gaining greater clarity and finding ways to collaborate. They will no longer be rigid in their thinking. As a result they’ll experience less conflict and less divisiveness in their dealings with others. In other words, their lives will become easier and more joyful. Isn’t that what we want for our kids?
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