Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Don't be like Washington; listen to other views

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
March 11, 2013 -- Updated 1624 GMT (0024 HKT)
Don't be like D.C. politicians, says Frida Ghitis. Above: Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker John Boehner .
Don't be like D.C. politicians, says Frida Ghitis. Above: Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker John Boehner .
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: People everywhere are growing increasingly convinced that they are right
  • Ghitis: It would do all of us much good to listen to people whom we disagree with
  • Opinions are contagious, she says, which is sad considering how often they are wrong
  • Ghitis: It's comfortable to be in an echo chamber of one's own views

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- The irritating spectacle of America's dysfunctional government, replete with displays of self-righteousness and stubbornness, provides precisely the right backdrop for a more constructive pursuit. The scene offers a reflective screen where we can look at some of our own traits. Much like the Washington representatives who refuse to find common ground, people everywhere are growing increasingly convinced that they are right.

Right about what? About everything, even the most complicated of issues where even a hint of honesty would demand admitting some measure of doubt.

Too many people are living in echo chambers, surrounded by the sound of their own views and beliefs reverberating from all directions, from television newscasts, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.

"You are so smart," say those carefully selected people we have chosen because they confirm our views, because they see the world through the same lens, with the same biases.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

It would do all of us much good to listen to the people with whom we disagree, not for the purpose of arguing with them, shouting them down and proving them wrong, but to deliberately listen to a different point of view, one that might widen our horizons and perhaps open our minds just a bit.

How risky does it sound to follow people with different views on Twitter, watch a newscast from a different network, talk to someone from "the other" party -- and to do it while bearing in mind that nobody has all the answers?

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In fact, the one thing we can say with certainty is that we are wrong. Wrong about what? We don't know. We cannot know.

We cannot know which among the truths we consider so patently obvious today will one day turn out to be so absolutely, completely mistaken, that we will blush with embarrassment at the thought that we once embraced it.

After Sept. 11, 90% of American approved of President George W. Bush. Seven years later, only one in four still felt the same way. Conversely, only one in three Americans approved of President Ronald Reagan in 1983. Today, he tops the rankings in polls about who was the best president in the country's history.

Opinions are contagious, which is sad considering how often they are wrong.

A majority of Americans today support same-sex marriage, according to Gallup. Fifteen years ago, 68% opposed it. There was a time not long ago when people were horrified at the idea of interracial marriage. Today, it is much more accepted.

Few people are truly independent thinkers, and the few who are often become targets of ridicule.

For thousands of years -- yes, thousands -- the best-trained doctors had no doubt that the best cure for a host of maladies was draining blood from their patients. Their patients, even the most sophisticated, had faith in the bloodletting procedure. And when the great minds in the field discussed the latest treatments, they concurred in their mutual admiration. Those who disagreed were not welcomed into the conversation. No other views were heard.

Today, the same phenomenon happens. When Mitt Romney lost the election, he was completely shocked, as were his followers. On his last campaign flight, Romney brandished his iPad to show reporters he had just finished writing his acceptance speech for Election Night. He didn't write a concession speech because he was convinced he would win. That's because his hall of mirrors reflected back his own views. His echo chamber sounded back his own ideas.

At the Boston Convention Center where he was planning to deliver the speech that night, Romney's supporters were stunned when they heard Fox News on the big screen declare Obama the winner. They had been listening to analysis on FNC, where the experts predicted victory, telling each other and their viewers how smart they were.

On MSNBC, at the opposite end of the prime time spectrum, there was a home for those who wanted confirmation of their own great wisdom. Audiences on both sides were convinced they were right. They were sure the other side was completely misguided.

When the Great Depression started to crush America, Congress took what seemed like the obvious action, imposing huge import tariffs, aiming to protect American workers by keeping out foreign competition. That triggered a devastating trade war that magnified the misery around the globe. As the depression deepened, policy-makers made mistake after mistake, tightening credit, raising taxes and following the orthodoxy of the day right into the abyss.

The reluctance to listen to a diversity of views has led to many catastrophes, and it's not just an American habit. In Syria, the peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi recently said President Bashar al-Assad is operating on the basis of views he hears from his inner circle, who have convinced him the uprising is nothing but a terrorist conspiracy. Under such circumstances, he refused to compromise when it was still possible.

Today, the consensus on too many matters is hardening on all sides. Social media makes it easier to turn up the megaphone of our own ideas. Despite easy access to information, people find it comfortable to live in a bubble filled with like-minded views. The result bleeds into the voting booth. It colors the ways of Washington. It creates phony confidence, arrogance and discourages compromise.

The best we can do is shorten the time until we discover which among our deeply held beliefs turn out to be foolish, by listening to a variety of opinions, and remembering that the only thing we know with certainty is that there is much we do not know, not unlike those puffed-up Washington politicians who would never admit there is so much they still have to learn.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT