Whose voices do I listen to? [and do they sound a little too much like my own?]

A journey toward diversifying the perspectives I consume

What authors do I read?
What podcast hosts do I listen to?
What directors are behind my favorite shows and movies?
Who do I follow on Instagram?

Whose voices do I listen to?

These are questions I have been mulling over the past few months, and partially what inspired my episode with Sarah Putt, MA, OTR/L from OT4Lyfe about cultural fluidity. At the heart of these questions, I am asking if these people, whose content I consume daily, have similar cultures, experiences or perspectives as me. I wonder if I am allowing myself to hear diverse perspectives that challenge my beliefs or if I’m just tasting different flavors of my own perspectives.

It is widely known in psychology and sociology that humans tend to spend time with others, whether virtually or in vivo, who make us feel more confident in our own perspectives: they call this consensual validation (Hampton, Boyd, & Sprecher, 2018) or confirmation bias, where “new” perspectives similar to our own are easy to accept and strengthen our own views. Despite this truth, we are not “hard wired” to only value the voices of people similar to us. My opinion is that this tendency is largely due to our complacency and societal norms rather than some evolutionary phenomenon. 

When I reflect on whose voices and perspectives I take in through my senses all day, I start to see that maybe I’m spending too much time with voices that provide consensual validation. But then, I listen to an episode of a podcast where the guest is someone whose upbringing doesn’t sound like mine; or, I read a book written by someone similar to me but who has been an eye-witness to the fatal effects of poverty around the globe; or, I watch an episode of my favorite show that tackles the harsh reality of racial injustice, and I am reminded that I need to move out of my comfort zone and sit with the challenging stuff. These people that have similar experiences as me use their platforms of privilege to highlight truths that otherwise, I might not face. 

It can be hard to sit with the challenging stuff. It is tough to hear that people have experienced great suffering. A few recent stories that sit heavy in my heart remind me that marital rape prevents men and women from experiencing trust in relationships; that children all around the world have empty bellies; that people of color sometimes don’t feel safe going on a run in their neighborhood because of deep seeded hate; that some people in the LGBTQIA+ community experience such prejudice that they live in fear and anxiety in their own homes. If I wanted, I could avoid these truths. I could listen to the stories of people that look like me, identify like me, live in an area of the world like me, have few true struggles, like me. But I don’t want to do that. I want to listen and I want to understand.

The more I hear other people’s stories and perspectives, the more I develop empathy, appreciate differences, understand some of the complexities of human experience, and value the contributions of others. The more I can put a face, a name, a voice, and a story to an experience that I otherwise only grasped in theory, the more I grow and become a more compassionate neighbor to the people around me. 

When I really stop and ask myself the questions above about my content consumption, I realize that I read, listen to, watch, and follow a lot of people like me. I see that I have room to grow and make space for new perspectives, and I also see that, thankfully, I have been drawn to follow people that are similar to me, but who GET IT! Hosts, directors, authors, and other content creators that share the truth they see, even if it means facing the tough stuff. 

While consensual validation is an easy habit to develop, I am challenging myself to sit with new perspectives and not be complacent. To not only hear the stories of others as curated by people like me, but to read books by people from other cultures, to listen to podcasts about social issues that I haven’t let pull on my heart strings; to watch shows produced by people that have a story to tell that I haven’t had ears to hear.  

So, whose voices do I listen to? Well, right now I listen to a few too many that sound like me, and I forgive myself for that. Awareness is the first step to making a change. I am aware, so I must do better. I will listen. I will challenge myself to seek out voices that may sound different than mine. I hope this ongoing journey will give me ears to hear and eyes to see.

Will you join me in reflecting on your own content consumption? What authors do you read? What podcast hosts do you listen to? What directors are behind your favorite shows and movies? Who do you follow on [insert social media here]? What voices do you listen to? Do they sound a little too much like you?