Stepping Outside the Echo Chamber


I was inspired and intrigued by a post from a Twitter friend and inspiration, Becca Obergefell, about where we get our information and what that information says about us. It was enlightening to see that someone shared my occasional guilt about knowing as much about theory and student development as I do about celebrity gossip 😉 But another part of it struck me particularly deeply- the concept of living and working in an “echo chamber”.

This was the second time I had heard the phrase in the past week (the first was courtesy of Jeff Lail, who was being praised for being a “certified Devil’s advocate“). It made me realize how much time I spend in close proximity with people who agree with me, and what that does for my thinking. The picture to the left is from an actual echo chamber in Scotland’s Hamilton Mausoleum. It has a long lasting, although architecturally unplanned, echo. Sometimes, student affairs can have a similar effect. Although we treasure our ability to embrace all different types of people, we all have a common reason for getting involved in the profession. With that common goal comes a remarkable similarity in sensibilities.

With that in mind, combined with my #oneword2012 (“learn”), I have been fairly intentional recently in seeking out alternate opinions, and seeing what I can learn from them. As a liberal living in a state capital during Republican debate and primary season, I’ve admittedly had a wonderful opportunity handed to me. (Thanks are also due to Joshua Gaccione, who has been remarkable in challenging me to consider new points of view, and in the most civil and respectful of ways I could ever imagine. He’s kinda great!)

That was demonstrated in a big way this morning when I had the opportunity to support our student union in welcoming Rick Santorum to campus in conjunction with our College Republican organization. Rather than dismissing an alternate opinion for lack of agreement, as a younger me would have done (and frankly, as the older version of me- my mother- consistently does), I took the opportunity to listen, to absorb information critically, and to learn. Without exposing my political views (as this isn’t the place for that), I can say that I found several points with which I agreed, and several that I didn’t. I heard things that made a lot of sense, and things I would have justified differently. But I found myself more open to hearing an opposing viewpoint than I ever would have thought. I welcome the challenge now, and am hopefully becoming better for it.

We encourage our students to expose themselves to a variety of viewpoints- both those of like mind, and those discordant with their own beliefs. How do you live that in your daily life?

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