There are few friends that i have who consistently challenge my philosophies on life and force me to delve into why i believe what i do. Of course, spending a day with one of those friends always makes me blissfully ecstatic, even if utterly exhausted. Today, i went to the beach and our discussion ended up focusing on the impact of friends on our mental models of strangers.
There are two parts to this problem:
1) What impact our friends have on our views of others;
2) How we act accordingly.
When we communicate our thoughts about outsider to our friends, we often use very coarse descriptions, highlighting what we see as the salient characteristics of that person, for better or worse. For example, i might say that Bob is really annoying, without contextualizing that statement to explain that he’s only really annoying when he’s around Carl because they are exes and are quite antagonistic. Big brush strokes.
The question is how my friend chooses to encorporate my thoughts. Ideally, we act as though we are strong enough to make up our own opinion on others, but this is probably not what people actually do. More likely, my friend’s view will be colored by what i say (which is not necessarily the whole of how i feel). In interacting with Bob, my friend will see Bob as annoying, even with Carl nowhere to be found. I will have colored my friend’s perspective.
A lot of this has to do with our tendency to create tribes. By voicing our opinions on outsiders to our friends, we encourage them to like the people we like and dispise our enemies. This animalistic tendency allows us to create a safe container for those we love. Of course, by being the one who articulates the tribe’s members, our opinions are validated giving us power within the system.
Given this framework, we started talking about how we operate inside and outside of this. My friend recognizes that opinions from others cloud his view and thus doesn’t want to hear them nor wants to share his own. Yet, in doing so, he ends up following others tribes. I, on the other hand, refuse to take anyone’s account that seriously and thus have no problem making up my own mind, yet i rarely keep my opinions to myself, mostly because i like to hear disagreement. Neither “solution” is ideal and we’ve both seen the reprocussions of our own paths. What’s more interesting is how frustrated he gets when someone shares coarse descriptions and how frustrated i get when others take my opinions with too much weight.
Thus, it begs the question.. how do you communicate your opinions in a way that doesn’t improperly affect the situation?