The armour of our own opinion. How we don’t listen to each other

I’ve been thinking recently, as a result of the independence debate, on how we make up our minds on things. I’d like to think I made up my mind by carefully and impartially exploring the facts before coming to a conclusion based upon them and impartial thought. Id’ like to think that, because that would make me wise and clever. Sadly the reality is often different.  

We tend to be unbiased, impartial, when we’re not terribly bothered about the outcome. If two people were arguing as to whether raspberry or strawberry jam was kinder to the environment, one might be able to offer impartial advice, as to how one might investigate. But when it comes to things that matter to us, it can be harder to be the wise, fact-accruing impartial judge that we would like to be.   

Actually, even with issues and debates that don’t really matter, other personality based things come into play. Do we want to appear informed and intelligent? Do we want to be able to think of things that no-one else has? There really is no such thing as an unbiased opinion.

In the Independence debate, there are so very few facts to be had – and the more I read, the more I find wild speculation being purported as fact by both sides. And in the absence of facts, people do what people always do – go with their gut, and then intellectualise around their gut feeling.

The difficulty with this is that the more clever you are, the better your ability to surround your gut reaction with solid arguments and statistics. That doesn’t’ make your gut reaction the right decision of course, but it does mean that you insulate yourself against challenging it.

When this process takes a while, weeks or months, it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that you’ve been even-handed, careful. But often it’s just a slow-burn gut reaction.

Sadly the more you intellectualise around an opinion, the harder it is for you to hear opposing views – it can even be hard to be remotely interested in the opposing views, unless it’s from the standpoint of wanting to defeat them. It can filter our perceptions to the extent that the only reason we have for listening to expert opinion is to try and get extra weight to sure up our arguments.

We see this in climate change, where sometimes the only thing people have bothered to insulate is themselves against the evidence.

We see it in the issue surrounding gay marriage in the church, where a trenchant inability to understand one another’s point of view makes it nigh impossible to come to any sort of accommodation.

We see this most recently in the Independence debate, where the absence of facts has enabled the deep thinkers to accrue around themselves confident predictions of either triumph or disaster, with equal merit.  The recent debate on TV was a perfect example of people not listening to each other.

Russel T Davies, the previous producer of Doctor Who said of writing dialogue – “It’s just two monologues going on at the same time. In real life, no-one listens to each other”. I hope that isn’t true, but if we are to have a dialogue on the issues which divide us, we have to be open for our opinion to be changed.

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of folk about the independence debate, and you know, it’s exhausting when you’re “talking” to someone whose mind is made up. Their only aim in speaking to you is to try and persuade you that they are right. They don’t’ want to listen to you, to hear your perspective, just to win. That’s not dialogue, that’s battle, and I’m not into it.

If we are to have a proper dialogue about Independence (and it’s not too late) we will need to be eager for fresh perspectives, new insights. We must be prepared, even keen, to change our minds, and to challenge our own perceptions before other people do. At the moment, battle lines are hardening and it’s getting more difficult to hear one another.

About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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2 Responses to The armour of our own opinion. How we don’t listen to each other

  1. Pingback: The armour of our own opinion. How we don’t listen to each other | frpip

  2. Pingback: Words and Scotland’s future | View from the Potting Shed

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