“Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it!”
This was quite a common response during my childhood. Truth be told, my parents were right. When I was younger, I would engage with my sister, and then run to them in floods of tears, ‘telling on her’, when she fought back. Eventually I learned that in fact, I cannot take it, and so I should not dish it out!
What this one-liner did not prepare me for, was the fact that later in life I would inevitably meet people who will dish it out regardless of whether I can take it or not! Sometimes, I could walk away. At other times, I was not so lucky.
People tend to be passionate about their opinions. That is natural; our opinions are often hard-earned and as a result, we may want to defend them to the ends of the Earth. That is all very well and good, but there are reasonable limitations we ought not to cross. For instance, when we express our opinions in a confrontational manner, or state them as fact, we can cause people to feel uncomfortable if they disagree. Worse, we may not give them the opportunity to disagree, which disadvantages both them and us.
Differing opinions and healthy debates can be marvellous experiences for us. You can always learn something from – and about – someone else. Sometimes the way we express our opinions is even more informative than what we are saying – your tone, body language, volume, attitude, etc. all display your true colours.
“Facing adversity builds character” – Unknown
Often diversity of opinion can help us dispel any allusions we may have grown up under. We tend to believe the views that have been presented to us by a trusted adult are factual, whereas they may not always be. For example, parents who are very Left wing may raise their children to believe that they are correct, Right-wing voters are wrong, and vice verse. In fact, there is no right or wrong in politics, the question is really which is the lesser of two evils as far as you personally are concerned.
A diversity of opinions can also help us strengthen our own views. In 6th Form, I joined the Debating Society. The first time I engaged in a debate, I was knocked off my feet. That same day, I researched the arguments that could have defended my points. In the debate that followed, I lasted five minutes longer. By the end of that term, I had studied multiple arguments that could be used against me. I developed counter arguments and as such, managed to defend my position far better. Not only could I target the opposition better, but I left fewer gaps in my claims, and was prepared for the opposition to reveal them.
Of course, the question arises, ‘how long is a piece of string?’ Truthfully, I do not think you can ever know too much, learn too much, understand too much. That said, I feel the ‘string’ is only as long as your mental capacity for learning and retaining the information, and it not infringing on other areas of life – for me, this was school.
The NASA Exercise
In one of my first classes, in my first year of university, we undertook the NASA exercise. The hypothesis under examination: in conditions of uncertainty, groups make better decisions than individuals. Individuals prioritise a list of items they feel they would require, should they crash-land on the moon. They complete the task a second time, in groups. At the time, a number of factors arose, which I will not deliberate here, including what ‘better’ means (this subjective term can skew results depending on your understanding of it).
Broadly speaking though, it is rare that individuals get closer to the NASA rocket scientists’ solution than their group does. Typically, individuals find that their ‘mean deviation from the NASA solution’ is between 2.7 and 5.0, while Group scores tend to be between 0.8 and 2.2. Individuals are usually more confident of their group solution than of their own, 7/10 (group) and 4/10 (individual) being typical.
At first sight, the results seem to prove the hypothesis, i.e. a group with little scientific or engineering knowledge can come close to the solution proposed by the most expert rocket scientists. In a group situation, one does not have to be a qualified expert to make a beneficial decision. Every person’s knowledge can be gathered, critiqued from many perspectives, propositions elicited, made, and supported. Jokes can be told, reducing thought-inhibiting anxiety and improving group functionality. An individual will struggle to know a lot, suggest and judge all possible ideas, ask themselves what they think and tell themselves jokes. Contrastingly, groups accomplish all of these activities easily, so easily that they often do not realise they are having to work hard at the problem. Because individuals tend to like their own ideas over others’ ideas, they are content to criticise.
Having not undergone my life’s experiences, it is unlikely that you will agree with all my opinions on the different platforms on which they exist; politics, religion, etc. That said, there are a multitude of research papers to demonstrate that teams work more effectively and produce better results when they are composed of people who are different from one another than when all are in complete agreement (the NASA experiment is only one of these). Diversity enables a number of different perspectives to be offered and the best to be voted on.
So, let’s agree to disagree, we’ll be all the better for it!