You’re not required to have an opinion on everything

A new study shows that people who identify as democratic socialists report higher levels of satisfaction with their lives than those who identify as free-market capitalists.

If you have an itchy twitter finger (and depending on your politics) you might feel an urge to post one of the following:

The results are in… socialism is the key to a happier life

No surprises from recent study… capitalists expect more out of life than socialists

If you’re actually tempted to spread the news, I should confess that I made up the study and its conclusion.

Importantly, the fact that the statement is a fabrication probably did not prevent you from having an opinion about it.

Opinions help brains avoid uncertainty

Our brains have a variety of strategies to help us avoid feeling uncertain. We don’t like uncertainty because our brains aren’t designed to thrive in uncertain times. One of the brain’s main jobs is to make sense of what’s happening so that we can anticipate the future. One of the main ways we make sense of what’s happening is by connecting new information to what we take as already settled.

When the brain is uncertain about how to label or categorize a new piece of information, we become anxious. Imagine if butterflies escaped from the place you expected to see fruit when you peeled your morning banana. You might feel scared. You might feel delighted. Either way, your brain would start working hard to reorient itself to a newly uncertain set of conditions.

Opinions are not mindless reactions

If you eat something that disagrees with you, you don’t have much control over how your body reacts. But the brain has more options than the stomach. If you take in a disagreeable idea, you can pause and reflect before responding. Rather than belching up a reaction to an indigestible idea, chew it over in your mind.

The idea is for you to form your opinions. If you mindlessly react to information, you’re allowing your opinions to form you.

Try this

When you notice an internal reaction welling up in you to something you’ve heard or seen, consider replacing your external reaction with one of these statements:

  • I see it differently, what am I missing?
  • We could do that. How would it help us?
  • Help me understand what led you to that conclusion.
  • I can tell you feel strongly about that. What about it is important to you?
  • Before we respond, what’s another way to look at this?
  • What would happen if we adopted a different solution? What if we did nothing?
  • Whose perspective is missing from this discussion? What would they say?

social media platforms are in no hurry to protect us from poisonous information

Sure, it would be great if Facebook’s algorithm optimized for joyful connection over addictive engagement. Maybe market forces and/or regulation will remind Facebook to look after human flourishing. With great power comes great responsibility!

Meanwhile, let’s work on our own programming. Just before the eye-roll, withdrawal, snark, or unsolicited advice, take a moment, embrace uncertainty, and choose curiosity.

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