When I was four years old my life was changed forever when my grandfather handed me an empty jar of dill pickles and invited me to have a drink from the juice that remained inside. This is my first memory of life, and it is why sixty years later I still loathe pickles. (Completely true story, by the way.)
My family humors me. They make sure the pickle jar is at my end of the dining room table. (I move it.) They ask me if I’d like another sweet gherkin. They bite into pickles with their mouths open so I can hear that nauseating crunch.
But I can always get the last word. On social media I can find the pickle-hater forums, and even visit ihatepickles.com. If I wanted to, I could block out all the world’s pickle lovers, and electronically surround myself only with people who, like me, recognize the true and vile nature of those long, stinky green things.
When you were a child your parents taught you not to stare at people who were different than you, or make rude comments about them. We were taught that we had to get along with people, even people who were different than us. The ability to adjust to the whims, foibles, beliefs, and appearance of others was considered a sign of social refinement.
Today, the ability to find common ground with those who are different has become a useless talent, sort of like writing in cursive. If we prefer, we need never talk with anyone with whom we might disagree.
If this strikes you as progress, you can thank computer algorithms—those complex mathematical formulas designed to keep us coming back to our various screens by figuring out what we like and then giving it to us. They guide us to columnists and talk show hosts with whom we agree, and to products we are predisposed to like.
When my opinions on everything from pickles to politics are constantly being reinforced by my homepage, I’m easily convinced that I’m one smart fella, and I can rest confident in the knowledge that anyone who disagrees with my point of view is not only dumb, but is also the probable spawn of Satan.
Thanks to the spoon-feeding I receive from those algorithms toiling night and day to keep me coming back for more, I’ve learned that pickle haters have higher IQ’s than pickle lovers, that no one has written a good song since 1972, that Putin is blackmailing Trump with a videotape of some sort, and that during the last presidential race Hillary ran a child sex ring out of a DC pizzeria.
In the old days we chafed against those who withheld information from us. Today we withhold it from ourselves, and call it good. Not only do we fail to understand why others could possibly hold an opinion different from ours, we may not even know different opinions exist.
A life filled with only our personal preferences may be pleasant, but it is very limiting. I’ve met many people who have somehow come to believe that making the effort to understand a different point of view is somehow akin to accepting or endorsing it.
Personally, I am a heterosexual male, but through the years I’ve known several people who are gay. I’ve had sometimes long conversations with my gay acquaintances to fully understand their point of view on the societal issues we all face. The understanding we’ve gained has enabled us to communicate with intelligence and mutual respect, and even to occasionally disagree without the invective that poisons civility and progress.
It might be worth asking yourself (as I have done) how many of your friends live outside your own personal bubbles? How many of them belong to a different political party, or religion, or race, or sexual orientation? If the answer is none, then maybe it’s time to step outside your bubble and engage with people who are different, and who can bring you knowledge, understanding and perspective that might enrich your life.
It worked for me. It’s true. My wife likes pickles.