Lost in Blindspots, Worldviews, and Echo Chambers?

Mirrors of Our Dreams

Walking into the broad conference hall, I recognized many people. After a few casual “hello’s” and some hand shaking, I mounted the podium and proceeded to make my presentation. It went really well. I nailed my points, heads were nodding in agreement, and the clapping at the close, affirmed mission accomplished. Walking into the crowd afterward, I received a few questions and enjoyed some follow up conversations. The day proceeded and I was able to make my rounds, meeting a few new people, and reconnecting with old acquaintances. I felt really good about the day and my ability to connect our story to the priorities of so many attendees.

The following morning, the breakfast hall was filled with people. The room was filled with the sound of plates, glasses, and chatter. It was a dull roar of activity and I made my way to the coffee. Oddly, the warm interactions of the day before were missing and I found myself alone at a table in the corner. Looking around, the faces seemed less familiar and completely unengaged. Not a single person made eye contact with me. Moving to a full table, I greeted its occupants and received terse acknowledgements as everyone picked up their plates and left.

Noticing a guy I had spent some time with the day before, I walked over to him and asked, “What is going on?” The man cocked his head slightly and squinted his eye as he responded, “Didn’t you notice?” I shook my head. He continued, “You strode into this hall yesterday, your head held high. You stood in front of this room of highly successful experts and pontificated on your brilliant ideas. Your remarks were boorish, unimaginative, and borderline offensive. Afterward, you feigned interest in numerous conversations, asking questions you thought were ‘sincere and insightful’ when in fact they betrayed your pride, arrogance, and indifference.”

Dumbfounded, I looked around and noticed the noise in the hall had stopped and everyone was looking at me. A veil across my eyes was suddenly lifted and I realized that he spoke the truth. All the conversations from the day before jumped into my head and I saw it all clearly. My “insights” were actually rude and bearish bragging. Individual interactions revealed my biases and preconceived conclusions while not so subtly trying to highlight my own brilliance. Thinking I was being clever, I anticipated comments or read the expressions of other people incorrectly. My “intuitions” were crass self-adoration. I was blind-sided by his astute feedback.

Waking from the dream, I was left with the uneasiness of a strange trip ending with a return to reality. As the details of the dream faded, the words “blind spots” remained, imprinted on my mind like the flickering remnant of a lighted sign glimpsed moments before.

Blind Spots

In Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the pilgrim finds himself descending through Hell led by the poet Virgil. Encountering lost souls along the way, he witnesses them experiencing punishments that reflect the nature of their sin in life. Even in the midst of their tortures, these lost souls frequently seem unrepentant of the sin that landed them in Inferno, often blame it on someone or something else, and remain consumed with their life and reputation left behind. All of them went through their earthly lives oblivious to the dangers of their choices relative to their eternal life.

Dante’s poem is a brilliant reflection on living a virtuous life and the potentially hellish consequences of our choices. Few would intentionally choose damnation, suggesting that many of these tortured souls fell due to “blind spots” in their own lives; places where they couldn’t see clearly. Considering my dream, I was left thinking about blind spots in my own life, what causes them, and what I might do to illuminate them.

Blind spots are places where we’ve lost visibility. When using mirrors on our car, there are places behind and around us that fall outside of our ability to see. Entire semi-trailers can disappear in these blind spots. Blind spots can occur when lighting is poor, hiding objects in the dark. Blind spots also happen with gaps in knowledge or information. On the way to a destination, we might not know to turn on a particular street because it is missing from our map.

The imperfect vision of our daily lives leaves lots of room for blindspots. We can never have perfect or complete information, which requires that many of our choices be based on educated (or uneducated) guesses, depending on available data. Also informing these guesses are experience, bias, and desire. The conclusions we have about the world around us are formed through these filters and tend to adjust based on changing information and circumstances.

Over time, we build confidence in our perspectives. Is it calcification or conviction? The hardening of our mind, and/or our heart, holds us back from discovery, insight, and evolution. Where and when does pliable intellectual growth turn to brittle conclusion? Our convictions may be born of objective truth and the hard facts of our experience. However, the subjective reality of changing circumstances demand that we wrestle with doubt or new inputs to firm or refine perspective. Calcification occurs when our subjective reality becomes fixed despite the evolving world around us.

World Views and Echo Chambers

Howling, crying,
Screaming at the moon
Only my voice came back
Only the echo came back

Billy Idol, Prodigal Blues

In a recent conversation, I asked a friend about some disagreements he had with another. He responded, “We have a different world view.” In addition to the lessons learned from hard experience, we each possess a moral center that informs our convictions. Our world view is born of biases formed from experience and the moral frame underpinning our sense of write and wrong. As our convictions in this world view firm, we become more convinced of our own “rightness.” One of life’s great challenges is balancing conviction in our world view with the changing in puts of reality around us.

Pride is the great danger of our convictions. Not pride in the sense of being “proud” of our children or in the quality of our work or in keeping our house nicely maintained. The deadly sin of Pride occurs when we become so convinced of our own “rightness,” that we tip into the prejudice of believing that all who disagree are “wrong.” Here, conviction can turn to calcification as we set ourselves up for real blind spots that foster resentment within ourselves and the people around us. Our fixation hardens our heart causing us to reject others and their ideas – often to everyone’s detriment.

In our organizations and personal lives, the calcification of our world views tend to create their own echo chamber, a place where the only voice we can hear is our own, repeating our truths and conclusions back to us. Moral conviction may be the right place to hold our ground, but sclerotic thinking impedes innovation, imagination, and our overall ability to solve the problems confronting us. Our own fixations limit our ability to grow and evolve as the world places new demands upon us.

Blind-Sided

The pride and prejudice born of our own convictions can create blind spots, not only hampering our effectiveness, but potentially exposing us to being blind-sided by the unexpected. There are places where we must run with conviction and places where our convictions run into a reality missed or unseen. Here, we live with the stories we tell ourselves even as life demands a pliability necessary for us to evolve in new discovery.

Being blind-sided is waking to a world that brutally opposes your conclusions and suddenly realizing that its may be right. The jarring discovery of a hidden domain lying beyond all that you knew was correct and real, destabilizes and threatens the very foundations of that comfortable world you’ve built. Here, we walk into a room of people who reject us for the calcification they experience in our pride and prejudice, finding ourselves on the outside of what we once thought was firmly in our grasp.

With age, we tend toward being fixed and will stay there when we stop asking, seeking, and feeding the machine that draws conclusions. This is the status quo of much of our world and dangerous in its invitation to be blind-sided. What do we do to avoid it?

Heart and Humility

But as it is written:
“What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,
and what has not entered the human heart,
what God has prepared for those who love him,”
this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

We spend so much time processing inputs through our mental machine, always with the goal of drawing a conclusion. “What’s the answer?” we ask. In work, we position our solutions as answers to others’ problems. At home, we work to fix family members by solving their issues. Along the way, we alienate others through our own fixed views of the world or by piping our voice outward from the echo chamber we’ve built to convince ourselves. Along the way, we stop asking the questions, or even worse, waiting for the other’s response.

New information, fresh perspective, and surprising insights are where we grow, and, the only counter to our blind spots. A powerful antidote to the pride and prejudice of calcified conclusions is humility. In 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, Jordan Peterson’s best-seller, rule #9 says “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.” This seems like a good place to start.

Thinking back on my dream, I wonder about my own conclusions. Where have they calcified? Perhaps the issue is one of heart more than mind. Facts may inform our intellect, but experience and encounter with others shape our heart. Perhaps the more powerful antidote to the blind spots is an open heart, ready to see, and to hear, the possibilities beyond my own “rightness.”

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