“… things are different now.”

Who thought we would be back to life as usual by now? I did. I don’t know if I really believed that, or I just couldn’t wrap my brain around an event that would so personally affect every single person on the planet and thereby disrupt every single society. Everything has changed.

When we were the parents of two toddlers, our niece who was fifteen at the time came to live with us for a year. I quickly learned 2 things about teenagers. First, what is life and death stuff today may not even be remembered tomorrow. And second, in order to have a relationship, I had to look past the words that were being spoken to hear her heart. 

Sometimes the words a person chooses are distracting and as we so often see, many times their actions are as well. These words and actions seem to be arrows pointing to off ramps leading away from the real understanding of the person’s heart. I realized that if I could stay on the road of hearing and understanding, driving passed these exits, I would stand a real chance of hearing my niece’s heart and making sure she knew she had been heard. 

This isn’t just true of teenagers. It’s true of anyone who is in a different place in life than you are. Separated by age, gender, culture, history, we simply do not communicate as seamlessly as when we’re talking to people who are just like us. And if we take that exit ramp whenever the words or actions are not what we would have chosen, we’ve not only missed an opportunity to hear the heart of another, but we’ve allowed seeds of anger and hate to be planted in our own. 

This challenge is most easily avoided by only communicating with people who are just like us. We will easily understand each other’s choice of words, nuances, inflection, body language and we will probably have more compassion over the actual issue. 

And, this is where an echo chamber is born.

The purpose of a real echo chamber is to add a richness and depth to a sound to simulate the natural reverberation that is characteristic of a large concert hall. Simply, an echo chamber takes a simple sound and makes it seem much larger and deeper than it really is. While this can be useful in music recordings, taking one doubt and adding richness, depth and magnification is death to problem-solving. It is in an echo chamber that a doubt is promoted to ‘big problem’ status and an angry or hate-filled response becomes justified.

Besides negatively affecting one’s relationships and effectiveness in life, and exasperating anxiety and depression, anger and hate can seriously compromise a person’s health by increasing a person’s risk for a heart attack, coronary heart disease, stroke and aneurysm by up to six-fold following an angry outburst. Even thinking about an angry experiences has shown to cause a dip in a person’s natural immunity to infection.*

There are many strategies for dealing with these feelings when they rise up such as breathing techniques, distraction, and exercise. And if the rage is within those around you, there are many strategies to avoid, defuse or distract. 

But, what if we could have stopped it when it was just a thought or a doubt?

What if maintaining a conversation with people who don’t look like me or sound like me, people who use words I wouldn’t use or use body language I don’t understand would have brought about a solution way back when it was just a little doubt? The world has changed and echo chambers are more plentiful than ever. Have the strength and courage to stay on the highway to understanding even when the exits seem very tempting.

And in the words of my favorite on-screen mom, “…things are different now. And doubt is a luxury we can’t afford anymore, sweetie. You have more power than you realize. Don’t think. And don’t worry! If the time comes, you’ll know what to do. It’s in your blood.†Elastigirl, The Incredibles

*Chris Aiken, MD, an instructor in clinical psychiatry at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Treatment Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, (“7 ways anger is ruining your healthâ€, by Debbie Strong www.everydayhealth.com 5/29/15)

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