A Gift Wrapped in Coarse Cloth

Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.

OK … spoiler alert. I realize it is slightly unprofessional, but there is no way I can write this missive without revealing my political preference. I am not, of course, assuming that all who read this feel the way I do and, in the spirit of the message, genuinely honor your right to hold a different view.Listening

Let’s face it, this is a tough election season. A lot is being said that is negative and hard to listen to. I’m sure there have been other times in our history when vitriol has been just as nasty, or even worse, but that was before the age of social media which makes such comments ever present.

Because of that perpetual bombardment, I have to admit I find myself increasingly changing the channel or hitting the mute button when views with which I do not agree are voiced. Just this week, for example, while watching a panel de-briefing the opening day of Democratic National Convention, I muted the sound as soon as the next speaker was introduced as “a Donald Trump supporter.”

Despite my own behavior (or maybe because of it), I’ve come to believe that my automatic punching of the mute button is a mistake. Maybe I and all of us would benefit from listening to views with which we disagree. In fact – and I hate to say this – those views are, in one way, an unexpected gift that Donald Trump is giving us. Yes, it is a gift wrapped in coarse cloth, but a gift nonetheless.

No doubt at this moment, you have an expression on your face akin to how you look when opening a gift from a distant cousin who has no idea of your taste or interests. I understand that. But this gift, unlike that peculiar sweater from cousin Joe, does serve a purpose.

Put most simply: By sticking around long enough to hear that different view, we learn to think better.

It’s not about changing our minds about an issue – that’s not the point. It is, instead, about listening to a way of thinking and believing that is different from our own for the purpose of enhancing our own ability to think more clearly and process thought more creatively. In other words, it’s not the specifics that matter, it’s the exercise.

The notion of being exposed to diversity of thought isn’t a new idea to most of you for, as diversity professionals, you know about the value of having diverse ideas and thinking styles in the workplace. As researchers from institutions such as MIT and the University of North Texas have shown, exposure to people who think differently than ourselves has the power to increase our own cognitive energy and clarity. It’s as if  the very effort it takes to understand what the other person is saying and plow our way through our own counter arguments wakes us up and makes us better and clearer thinkers.

Also, who knows, there might be an idea or two in there that isn’t so wrong after all. Clearer more energized thinking? An idea or two? Sounds like a gift worth opening to me.

Sondra Thiederman can be contacted for webinars and in-person presentations on defeating unconscious bias by clicking here or calling 619-583-4478. For additional information, go to www.thiederman.com.

© copyright 2016 Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.
Feel free to reprint or re-post as long as copyright and website information (www.thiederman.com) are attached.

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