Echo-Chambers & Silos: Why They’re Dangerous and a Constant Impediment to Progress

December 15, 2016

Deke Copenhaver

Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
“If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” ~ Moshe Dayan

As I’ve grown older it’s come to amaze and somewhat dismay me when intelligent individuals make sweeping and usually negative generalizations of people, organizations or cultures they’ve never actually had any interaction with. One thing I’ve considered in pondering this type of perspective is it’s perhaps easier to paint with a broad brush as it has a tendency to validate our position socially or politically on any one given issue.

It’s undoubtedly difficult to sit with someone you don’t know, or perhaps don’t like, face to face in a setting that may be way beyond your comfort zone and listen to their thoughts and feelings which may differ from your own point of view. However, if real social, political and cultural change is ever going to happen I can guarantee you one thing for sure: this change will never occur in an echo-chamber or a silo.

The broad strokes can happen at all levels, whether it be class warfare being played out in politics, racially charged incidents in cities across the nation often pitting neighborhoods and law enforcement against each other or even simply hating someone because of the team they pull for. No good and decent person could ever support your archrival in sports, right?

Realistically, at some point in our lives we all paint with that broad brush and like to remain in the comfort zones of our echo-chambers and silos, talking to and hanging out with people that generally look like us and think like us. It’s just plain human nature and it seems to make things easier as we all have a tendency to surround ourselves with people and things that make us feel comfortable and safe.

However, I’d also point out our tendency to do this has the very real effect of building walls of mistrust and ultimately heightening a fear for who or what may be on the other side of those walls. It’s hard enough to trust people we do know, making it next to impossible to trust someone we’ve never met.

The real danger here is that the more entrenched these walls become as we spend generation after generation reinforcing them, the more difficult they become to tear down, thereby becoming a major impediment to real progress on pertinent issues facing our nation and our world. How can we have a real dialogue on race relations, poverty, job creation or climate issues if we’re so entrenched in our own views, positively reinforced by constantly associating with like-minded individuals, that we’re simply unwilling to listen to another perspective or point of view?

For the better part of my adult life I’ve been blessed to be afforded the opportunity to interact with people from widely different walks of life. Whether it be people whose backgrounds are different from mine from an ethnic, socio-economic, cultural political or faith-based perspective, I’ve always found one constant common denominator: people are people and there’s always common ground to be found. Whether it be trying to take care of our families, wanting to find meaningful work, hoping to improve the safety of our neighborhoods or just simply putting food on the table, there are far more issues that unite us as individuals and families than there are those that would divide us.

Let’s face it ... in a world which continues to speed up around us, it’s often hard to find the time to get off our daily beaten path and to take a moment to break free of the bubbles we all have a tendency to surround ourselves with to one degree or another. However, I would submit to you that if you commit to doing this every so often the rewards are something you’ll carry with you the rest of your life. Hopefully getting outside the bubble will provide a nice breath of fresh air and a reminder of the common ground issue that this air is something we all breathe together.

Back to Listing