"You are awesome, so smart, and everything you think is completely right."
(Ummm…can that guy be my new best friend?)
While it feels great to have others constantly confirm that our beliefs about life and the world are right, we already know that can be bad for us in the long run. Well, what might not be so obvious is that the same holds true when it comes to our news consumption.
As more of us turn to the web as our main, if not only, source of news, the breadth and depth of our news diet often decreases. We can be attracted to websites and stories that back up our existing theories, echo our social and political views, and make us feel strong and right. John F. Harris, editor in chief of Politico.com, told The New York Times, "Everybody in the audience is his or her own editor based on where they want to move their mouse." Our news selection is often times less practical than it is emotional.
Choosing news programs, networks, and websites that simply express some version of what we already believe can have negative consequences. How do we expect to solve anything without understanding how the other side thinks and feels? Albert Einstein said it best: "No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it." Plus, what happened to being challenged? Expanding our minds? How about a little friendly debate?
Follow these simple steps the next time you get your news online to help expand your mind:
Be aware of the collective. Do you only read the articles listed under "Most Read" or "Most Emailed"? Go beyond that to know what other news is out there.
Surf a site with an opposing slant. Check out an op-ed from someone on the other side of the issue. If you don't agree with it, now you might at least have a better sense of why.
Try to see the other side. Even if you disagree with the overall idea, sometimes there might be aspects of it that resonate with you. Either way, it is a good chance to practice open-mindedness.
Enjoy the debate. Get together with a friend who has different views on government bailouts, gay marriage or some other hot button issue and have a debate. Fight fair as you work to present your point and practice actively listening to theirs. It can be a great way to connect.
Take a break from the water cooler. Yes, those gossip stories about celebrities can be entertaining, but make sure to get a balanced diet of news including top stories, health and other topics important to everyday life.
Building awareness about our news consumption habits can foster deeper mindfulness about how we think about issues and our world. Plus, who knows, we might discover something new about ourselves in the process!
This post originally appeared on the Psychology Today website on July 21, 2010.