There’s a reason we all like to be right — and perhaps it’s more biological than you think. According to Judith Glasser from the Harvard Business Review, “in situations of high stress, fear or distrust,“ a neurotransmitter called “cortisol” floods the brain and, as a result, brain functions that help with things like trust-building and compassion can completely shut down.
To combat this tidal wave of cortisol, our brains instinctively seek out relief. And the easiest way to do that? According to Glasser, it all comes down to winning an argument. Winning an argument replaces cortisol with the hormones adrenaline and dopamine and these little regulatory substances make us feel delighted, powerful, and sometimes even invincible. It’s a feeling any of us would want to replicate.
So, to recap: High stress? High cortisol. Looking for relief? Win an argument.
As a result, it’s incredibly natural that in these stressful situations, we become drawn to environments where there is minimal threat to our own opinions. We are attracted to people who will agree with us, back up our argument, and affirm our beliefs. When with like-minded people, our neurotransmitters fire and we end up sunbathing in a pool of adrenaline and dopamine. Solidarity and summer sun? Count me in.
The problem is that over time, these environments become echo chambers where people with the same opinions are reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system. This selective exposure can increase polarization and weaken facts through confirmation bias. In a global climate where we are all feeling elevated levels of cortisol, these echo chambers are growing at a rapid rate.
At EXPLO, we wanted to know how we can better combat these selective systems in our communities. When we sat down with former Oxford Union President, Stuart Webber, he said the best practice will come from allowing your thoughts to be challenged by those of a differing opinion.
You need to be able to challenge your own thoughts. In the metaphor, ‘if a bones broken, it grows back stronger’ and that’s exactly the same in having your views challenged.
To Webber, strengthening your own ideas comes not from necessarily changing them, but instead learning as much as you can from those who have different ideas. Debate, diversity and dialogue are critical to the establishment of a growth mindset — something I think we can all agree on.
Here are some really interesting (and some just fun) links that we have been recently indulging in to learn more about empowering your own ideas.
- The hierarchy of disagreement: Seven of the best and worst ways to argue
- Why can echoes be heard on mountains but not in rooms? Akash Peshin, an electronic engineer from the University of Mumbai breaks it down for us.
- Sometimes you need that one person to tell you that you are capable of what you would have otherwise thought impossible. Bob Ross, ladies and gentlemen.
- I can't think of a better way to challenge your own ideas than with a brutally-honest and beautifully designed alternative magic eight ball that's sure to give you another perspective
- TED speaker Celeste Headlee: "If you’re going to have an argument with someone, the best way to do it is to assume they can teach you something."
- Jaipur: A game meant only for two players is bound to rule out "build allegiances" as a part of its strategy. You're on your own with this one!
- P.S. Speaking of religion: Sam, I.T. coordinator at EXPLO, was recently published in the Yale Divinity School's Glossolalia about the patterns of cult unification in the Celtic world
At EXPLO, liberal arts takes many forms, exercises, and events. Just a few EXPLO experiences that encourage students to empower their own ideas include:
- Weekend Trip: Venture into the famous Natural History Museum, where you can see history unfold through the perspective of a 200,000-year-old Neanderthal or a present-day archeologist (grades 4-7, 8+9, 10-12)
- Extracurricular: Speak out on behalf of the opinions of your peers as a member on the Student Advisory Committee (grades 8+9, 10-12)
- Course: From King Arthur’s Court to Hogwarts Dining Hall, learn how to govern with clear communication and deliberation during periods of crisis in Fantasy Situation Room (grades 4-7)
- Course: Learn the perspectives of both sides of an issue in order to make the most effective state in Making Art for Social Change (grades 8+9)
- Course: Get a taste of other cultures — learn how to prepare, cook, eat, and savor food you've never tried before in World Cooking (grades 4-7, 8+9)
- Program: Leave your home-team jersey behind (if it's not the Red Sox at least!) when pitching new stadium management ideas to the CEO of the PawSox in Sports Management
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