by Patti FosterPatti Foster Head SHot

Foster is a moderator for Beyond Civility’s Side-by-Sides and Back-to-Backs. She is a licensed attorney who practiced First Amendment law and is currently the owner of Cookies Uncorked, a deliciously creative place to decorate and order cookies.

Our willingness to really listen to a contrary viewpoint depends upon how certain we feel about our own stance.  Our degree of certainty should relate to how likely, or unlikely something is.  Is the economy improving or faltering?  Are we at risk of crime, illness, addiction?  Is the planet in peril or secure?  Knowing the odds should modulate our internal alarm system that warns us of dangers.

Imagine a small community of 1,000 people.  Each year, some people would have car accidents and some would lose their jobs.  Some would get married, get divorced, get cancer.  Some would struggle with addiction.  Some would have babies.  Some would die.  Now imagine this community has no access to the internet or 24-hour news.  Without thought, each individual would apply intuition to calculate from their own experiences the likelihood of a whole host of things.  Their concerns should correlate with their experiences, with fears proportionate to their own reality.

Now leap to our world of information overload where worldwide disasters and pundits take up residence in our living rooms amplifying isolated tragedies, risks, and opinions.  It isn’t surprising if our “inner statistician” struggles to calculate the odds and risks we should most care about.  Also unsurprising if a persistent state of alarm leads us to take unshakable stances.

In the age of information, we can have too much information.  Our communication could be enhanced by recognizing that we may suffer from artificially elevated concerns and an overactive inner alarm bell that drowns out differing points of view.

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