By Leo Bottary, Founder, Peernovation and Co-Founder, The One Advantage
Twenty-five years ago, in the feature film Contact, Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) responded to her former mentor and nemesis, Dr. David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt), after having had a tough day testifying before Congress. Here’s a snippet of the dialogue:
David Drumlin: “I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that’s an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.”
Ellie Arroway: “Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.”
I believe Ellie is right. So I thought, given the divisive state of our world, it is worth reflecting on this concept. The whole premise of the book Peernovation: What Peer Advisory Groups Can Teach Us About Building High-Performing Teams is built on a foundation that “the power of we begins with each of us.” The thing is: Achieving Peernovation is a non-starter if we are unwilling to respect one another and listen to learn.
Obstacles to Collaboration
We’ll never reap the benefits of societal collaboration unless we are willing to cooperate in pursuit of something larger than ourselves. We have to open our minds and listen to people, especially those who disagree with us. And we’ll never listen to people who disagree with us if we don’t respect them and seek to understand the core of why they see the world the way they do. Fundamentally, we must believe that everyone can teach us something. I am not advocating consensus or agreement on every issue, only listening, and giving others the courtesy and respect of being heard—expecting that the other person is willing to do the same.
Personally, I can trace the beginnings of our unwillingness to learn from others to poor advice given by most parents— notably from my generation. For example, they would say: “Whatever you do, avoid talking to others about politics and religion.” While this advice may have been well-intended socially speaking (and served to avoid people challenging the nascent views kids were taught at home), I would suggest that such directives did more harm than good.
This approach to maintaining social decorum assumes that these topics are fodder for contentious debate rather than productive dialogue. We weren’t taught to ask questions to better understand why someone is liberal versus conservative or how faith plays a role in one’s life. Engaging in a conversation about political views or religion was tantamount to picking a fight.
Imagine what we could discover if we were equipped to have thoughtful dialogue about consequential subjects. Consider how less divided the world might be if our elders groomed us to listen and learn rather than argue and judge. Unfortunately, because the notion that we should avoid controversial subjects was so embedded into our psyches as kids, we tend to lack the ability to have respectful conversations without letting emotions run wild. Sadly, this inability spans beyond politics and religion. To keep peace, we talk about comfortable topics and surround ourselves with people like ourselves—hardly a recipe for learning and growth.
My options for television news growing up were NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS. The professed goal of each station was to deliver an objective report of the day’s events. If someone were to offer commentary, it typically appeared at the end of the program and was identified as such. Newspapers had news, sports, weather, comics, obituaries, and a clearly marked editorial page.
Today, the lines are blurred between news and opinion, and viewers can select whichever channel best aligns with their worldview. If you watch MSNBC, you likely eschew Fox News and vice versa. Consumers of information engage in affirmation rather than exploration.
Add social media to the mix, and we can’t even agree on foundational facts anymore. A few years ago, when speaking to Edelman’s Tonia Ries, I asked her about how we look to one another more when we don’t trust media or other experts. She agreed yet reminded me that it was not because peer credibility had risen so much as expert credibility had fallen. She reviewed the trend lines from the Edelman Trust Barometer over the years to see if there had been an increase in peer credibility. She found that peer credibility remained steady, at about 60%. Trust in experts declined, primarily because of an increasing strain of anti-intellectualism that fueled a loss of respect for experts and educators.
Worse yet, people are not vetting their “facts” and essentially practicing “poor information hygiene.” As you would guess, when people hear something that aligns with their current worldview, they are more likely to spread it without first checking the source, resulting in misinformation running amok. Since we need each other to survive and thrive, our ability to be worthy of the trust of others has never been more crucial.
We live in a time in human history when we have the most extraordinary access to the broadest range of expertise and opinions the world has ever known. Now that it seems we’ve tackled one pandemic, it may be time to address the one between our ears before it’s too late.
We can start by examining the work of two people whom I greatly admire: Angela Maiers and Craig Weber. Angela will show how much YOU matter, and Craig will give you the conversational capacity you’ll need to thrive in the new world.
It’s also an excellent time to embrace the difference between freedom and liberty―the responsible exercise of our freedom in consideration of others. The more we listen for understanding―to one another and experts―and do so responsibly, the better off we’ll be. The world is what we make of it. The power of we begins with you.