An echo chamber is a place where you only hear voices and opinions that sound like yours. It’s not a physical place, but it is a mindset or state of being.
Natural Echo Chambers
Sometimes an echo chamber is formed by accident. As people, we tend to naturally surround ourselves with people that are most like us, and keep our distance from those that are unlike ourselves. Being surrounded by folks like us is rather comforting, and being surrounded by individuals that are our polar opposites makes us feel uncomfortable.
We tend to do this when it comes to issues like race, religion, political affiliation, occupation, and class. For example, the majority of friends and family are white, Evangelical Christians, who tend to vote Republican, have a white collar job, and live in the upper ranks of the middle class.
I’m sure whatever your background, you can relate. Like tends to attract like, and we have a natural affinity for belonging to homogeneous circles.
Intentional Echo Chambers
But sometimes, the echo chambers we live in aren’t formed so accidentally. Sometimes these echo chambers we live in are intentional forged.
In the Bible, an early follower of Jesus by the named Philip attempted to recruit his friend Nathanael to follow Jesus as well. But Nathanael initially resisted. Why? Because Jesus was from a podunk town named Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was his attitude. Without even meeting Jesus, Nathanael was ready to dismiss Jesus simply because of where He was from. Nathanael was living in an echo chamber of his own making.
We do this a lot today. Before considering if something could be true, we often consider the source of information before we are even willing to entertain whether what is said is true or not. Was it said by a liberal or conservative? Is it reported by CNN or Fox News? Is the person gay or straight? Are they white or black? Rich or poor?
Insulating ourselves from all the unique voices in this world simply because we don’t really care for the source is dangerous ground. Such an attitude almost caused Nathanael to outright reject Jesus simply because of where Jesus was from. And it’s ultimately an attitude that we should all guard against.
We Want It That Way
Sadly, the older I get the more I seem to discover that not only do we live in our own little natural echo chambers, the truth is, many people deliberately WANT to live in their own little bubble. They aren’t interested in honest inquiry, dialogue, or searching for truth.
Many simply want to exist in their tribalistic circles of people that do nothing but drink the same Kool-Aid all day long. And the idea that someone outside their own little group could be right about something scares them to death. It jeopardizes their way of life and the relationships they’ve forged, and as a result, they build a wall that automatically excludes everyone outside of it.
It makes me wonder, do we really value the diversity of opinions and insightful truth that people have from a wide spectrum of backgrounds?
I tend to think not. Maybe that’s why we as a nation have primarily divided ourselves largely into only two opposing political parties. Such is only one more political party than China and North Korea each have. And truth be told, many of us would be more comfortable if we lived in a nation and world where there was only one spectrum of thought that was tolerated. We would like a nation of nothing but Republicans, or nothing but Democrats.
Bursting Your Bubble
Considering our natural proclivity towards living in an echo chamber, I believe we all must make a conscious choice to tear down the walls we have hid behind for so long. Otherwise, like Nathanael, we risk not only overlooking truth in the face, but the truths we hold over time will simply become dull, hollow, and empty cliches.
As science shows us, truth worth holding is truth worth testing, and testing over and over again. Truth can endure scrutiny, and can thrive even in the most unlikely of places. It doesn’t matter if that truth comes from Nazareth, CNN, or Fox News. It doesn’t matter whether or not the person holds a high enough ranking on the intersectional hierarchy. What matters is finding the truth, no matter how wonderful or awful the source of that truth actually is.
And the solution to escaping our own echo chamber is simple. We simply need to search for the truth wherever that truth is, regardless of the source. As a matter of discipline, we should regularly listen to, read, watch, and talk with a wide variety of people and perspectives. We should find at least one person we consider a heretic, and fall in love with them and what they have to say, even if what they say is ultimatley wrong.
That might be hard and make us a tad bit uncomfortable. Leaving your own echo chamber usually is. But, in doing so we might make some new friends along the way. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find out something new, wonderful, and true.