March 10, 2017 / Elizabeth Pullen

Understanding the “Other Side”

As a result of the recent election, we’re seeing more political activism and conflict in the news. Whatever our political position, people tend to have strongly held beliefs and viewpoints. One of my concerns is that the current political controversies will spill over into our professional lives and tend to split us apart. We each may see different roles for AIHA, as the association establishes positions and attempts to influence governmental policies and legislation. Given all the turmoil, this is a time to come together and model constructive methods to solving problems.

In the November 2016 Synergist, Peter Sandman wrote an excellent article titled “Confirmation Bias, Part 2: How to Overcome Your Own Preexisting Beliefs​.” “Confirmation bias is the universal tendency of human beings to hang on to what they already believe in the face of evidence to the contrary,” Sandman writes. He provides a series of recommendations to combat that bias.

Part of our problem is our tendency to read or listen to information sources that support what we currently believe. Years ago, everyone got their news from mostly the same sets of sources. Now the news is segmented by political philosophy, and people only tend to hear what supports their bias. We also tend to separate ourselves geographically, picking locations with more people that think “like us.” Our job choices may also reinforce that bias.

If we want to be fully informed and least susceptible to confirmation bias, we need to spend more time hearing and understanding the “opposing” point of view, as Sandman explains. We need to seek out information sources from the “other side” so we can fully understand their point of view. And we need to find people with opposing viewpoints to discuss important issues and try, together, to come up with solutions.

Elizabeth Pullen

Elizabeth Pullen, CIH, FAIHA, is industrial hygiene manager at Clariant in Charlotte, N.C., and a past president of AIHA.


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