See what I did there?

There is a {sort of} secret spot on the campus of the University of Cincinnati that is an echo point. Inconspicuously located behind Braunstein hall and just west of the Geology-Physics building you will find a circular brick plaza uniquely designed so that when you stand in the exact center and face north, your voice will echo back, but no one standing near you will hear the echo. It's a quirky attraction that I love taking people to when touring UC.

I didn't find the echo point on campus accidentally, I was told about it, but I often wondered if anyone had ever accidentally stumbled upon it. How surprising would it be to unknowingly stumble onto the echo point?

This is the problem with the echo chambers that we create around ourselves, we often stumble into them. The media we consume, our experiences, and the people we surround ourselves with makes it easy to stumble in.

An echo chamber is created when we primarily consume media/news that confirms the narrative we already believe and automatically devalue the perspective offered that doesn't confirm that narrative. It is also created when we self-segregate, we surround ourselves with people who look/think/act/vote/believe like us and again we devalue opinions from those who counteract the narrative created by the group I've self-segregated myself into.

Making matters worse, social media filters also help create echo chambers. If you gain most of your news through Facebook/Twitter then you are most likely being fed news created by a social media filter which is designed for one purpose: clicking. Not that this absolves the user since these filters were created with your input.

Valuing information that confirms the narrative you already believe and devaluing information that counters that narrative goes by another name: confirmation bias.

What's so bad about self-segregation and confirmation bias?

Confirmation bias is harmful not only to yourself but to others as well.

First, confirmation bias affects the type of information we seek out. This is why we self-segregate. No matter what we may tell ourselves we will naturally seek out information that confirms what we already believe. In doing so, we will not seek out those who are different from us. This shuts us out from different perspectives and creates a challenge to empathize.

Second, confirmation bias leads to a backfire effect. David McRaney, the author of "You Are Not So Smart", said this of the backfire effect:

Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do it instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead. Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper.

We all like to believe that when facing factual information that counters are held beliefs that we would intelligently consider the information and change our beliefs accordingly. But what David McRaney and other researchers have found is quite the opposite, we don't change, we dig in.

This makes real dialogue about difficult and divisive issues impossible. If we are unable to hear information counter to what we already believe then we will head into our conversations with friends, family members, co-workers, random twitters, and strangers with one goal: conversion. And that is just not a realistic goal and further, it is a harmful goal.

When your goal is conversion then your friend has become your opponent, it's us vs them, turn or burn, and listening to your friend is sacrificed on the altar of persuasion. Seeking to know and understand the other is replaced with seeking to make sure the other knows how wrong they are and how right you are.

In the end, it only creates more division.

So then we end up self-segregating, we surround ourselves with people who think and act like us so that we can avoid being challenged. We like our narrative and we will defend it in the face of any challenge. We devalue other perspectives and the people behind those perspectives. Even worse, we demonize them, which makes it easier to dismiss what they might share that is contrary to our chosen ideology. Even scarier, when people are demonized it makes it easier to accept their oppression.

For Christians I'll take this another step further. If we disregard people who look/act/think/believe differently than us or devalue their input because it goes against our held beliefs then we cheat ourselves out of a fuller picture of the image of God present in us. Also, it's really hard to love and serve people whom we demonize.

When we do that to other Christians who look/act/think/believe differently than us we make it seem as if Christianity is only for certain people, that they are not that people, and we pass up opportunities where we could be sharpening one another and working towards becoming one as Christ prayed and died for.

Next post we'll dive into how to leave our echo chambers. Included in that will be two specific challenges, one easy and one harder, it'll be like one of those choose your own adventure books!

Click here if you'd like to catch up on the rest of the Crossing the Divide series.