Art by Samantha Miller
Pepperdine students have different appearances, come from different places and have different beliefs.
In a world full of these differences, communicating with people opposite you can seem like a daunting task, but according to experts and Seaver students, it’s ultimately a rewarding one.
“You can learn anything from anybody,” sophomore Myles Dennis said.
While comfort zones and lived experiences make students naturally congregate with and trust people who have things in common with them, engaging with those who are different shouldn’t be an obstacle, but an advantage, Alana Conner, former director of the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, wrote in a 2018 article.
“Research shows again and again that grappling with diverse opinions and backgrounds makes us better decision makers, more creative problem solvers and more empathic people,” Conner wrote.
Don’t be afraid of the unknown
Reaching out or socializing with people opposite of you can be a “stressful, sometimes exasperating,” process, Conner wrote. Senior Sam Petersen said she has challenges speaking to family members who hold opposite views and are from a different generation.
“A lot of them try to discredit me because I’m younger than them,” Petersen said. “But, I feel like our generation is actively trying to learn things, while the older generation is used to things being the way that they are.”
However, junior Jadyn Gaertner said even people who are open to learning from different perspectives can sometimes be intimidated by how they are perceived based on what they don’t know.
“I’m really afraid of saying the wrong thing,” Gaertner said.
Gaertner said she has never felt comfortable asking if something is wrong to say, because she’s worried even that might come across as offensive or ignorant.
Dennis said he encourages people not to shut down somebody with beliefs that counteract their own.
“You don’t say ‘Oh, I can’t talk to you anymore,'” Dennis said. “That’s not good conflict resolution.”
Dennis said he suggests educating and encouraging people to become informed.
“Do you believe something because – Trump, Hillary, Biden, Obama, whoever – because they said it and you back their opinion, or have you done your own research?” Dennis said.
Amani McCalleb, senior and Black Student Association President also said she encourages the Pepperdine student body to ask questions.
“We need to be having those very upfront and very personal conversations to avoid anybody feeling ostracized,” McCalleb said.
The divisiveness of social media
Students said they believed the emergence of social media has created a breakdown in people’s ability to converse.
“The anonymity of it [and] the physical distancing definitely emboldens people to say things that they wouldn’t say in person,” senior Charlie Brobst said.
Petersen said social media – unlike face-to-face conversation – allows for choreographed responses to any dialogue one might have with another person.
“You can plan out what you’re saying,” Petersen said. “You can hear what other people are saying, and take bits and pieces from it.”
Petersen said social media should be used to educate humans on alternative worldviews through resources, links or infographics, rather than polluting it with their own uninformed perspectives.
More than one perspective
According to leading psychological research, understanding how others think — even if one doesn’t agree — is vital to becoming a more informed citizen and being equipped for the real world.
“Contrasting views … can stimulate theories that have more explanatory power than the sum of theories based on individual perspectives,” University of Vienna researchers wrote in a 2018 journal published in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology.
The researchers wrote a huge part of understanding differing perspectives is learning the differences between people.
“Collecting multiple perspectives data … can provide rich understanding of the dynamics at play in complex relational systems, and the different perceptions of people involved,” the researchers wrote.
For example, Gaertner, a film major, described herself as “dramatic” and “creatively wired.” Brobst, an economics major, described himself as “brutally practical” and said that everything he believes comes from economic efficiency, not moral values or emotions.
These two students have different views on a variety of subjects, but if each approach the subject through the lens in which their brain is conditioned, it’s likely that neither of them are completely right or wrong in assessing a situation.
Dennis said it’s important to remember that the defining characteristics of humans – such as race, gender or party affiliation – don’t always paint an accurate picture of one’s identity.
“I like a lot of things that most Black people probably don’t like,” Dennis said. “I like country music. I like NASCAR. I like Tom Brady.”
Essentially, people should take the time to get to know the people around them, wrote Karen Nimmo, a clinical psychologist, writer and blogger — even if they think they already know them well.
“Everyone has a story to tell — and wants someone to hear it and, so, to understand them … it helps [people] discover how they came to be the person they are and how they operate in the world,” Nimmo wrote.
Gaertner said hearing personal stories she hadn’t heard before from close friends opened her eyes to the perspectives behind movements like Black Lives Matter.
“When [the movement] first started, I didn’t get it,” Gaertner said. “I thought we had solved this problem a long time ago, because I hadn’t experienced it. I don’t think there’s any way to know unless you specifically ask someone about it.”
Gaertner said that once she did, she gained knowledge and respect.
“We were able to just share our hearts about what was going on,” Gaertner said of her conversations with her friend. “I would say I’m definitely more aware.”
Petersen said both sides needed to cooperate for interaction to work, calling it a “two-way welcoming zone.”
“Even if I’m different from you and you’re different from me, we can still be people,” Petersen said. “But you have to also be open.”
Follow Paxton Ritchey on Twitter: @paxtonritchey_ or contact via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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