Viewpoint Diversity: What it is and why it matters

In today’s climate of intense polarization, people on all points of the political spectrum have strongly advocated for their personal beliefs and many aren’t afraid to be confrontational with friends, family, or strangers on “the other side.” You’ve probably seen these arguments play out over social media – or maybe even at the dinner table. In this age of identity politics, viewpoint diversity has become essential to foster personal intellectual growth, and it’s clear that the earlier this process begins, the better. The key is to promote individual thinking over group-think, celebrating unique points of view and recognizing that other people’s points of view matter, too.

Viewpoint Diversity is about understanding that all people have unique experiences and see things differently. It’s not about empathy. It’s not about tolerance. And it’s certainly not about consensus.

Put simply, viewpoint diversity is about understanding and engaging in something I call “positive intellectual inquiry” to develop a better sense of self-awareness and awareness of others. There are three main objectives of practicing positive intellectual inquiry:

1. To increase awareness of self and of others.
Being more self-aware is an essential part of positive psychology. In addition to knowing our strengths, we should also be aware of our biases. We can keep in mind that we always have more to learn, and it’s important to stay curious. This helps us better understand ourselves and other people.

2. To cultivate intellectual humility. 
Fostering viewpoint diversity helps to promote a culture of intellectual humility. Intellectual humility is a nonpartisan virtue. It is a check against self-righteousness and a balance that enables us to allow for ambiguity.

None of us have a worldview that is complete and we can all learn from other people. It behooves us to open up instead of shutting down and to expand our minds instead of contracting them. We can build on our self-awareness and be more aware of others simply by admitting that we don’t know everything. We might, in fact, be wrong.

3. To develop actively open-minded thinking skills. 
It isn’t comfortable or easy, but we can and should actively seek out “other-side” arguments. We can challenge ourselves before we challenge others and we can seek to understand. We can ask ourselves if there is something we can agree on to move the discussion forward on a path toward understanding. Embracing open-minded thinking skills helps everyone grow and it’s something that can be integrated into all of our lives right now.

Viewpoint diversity benefits everyone. It gives us room to wonder. It’s what makes life so much less boring — that we can gaze at the same scene and see something totally different. It’s an amazing thing to experience.

We need to resist conflating identity with ideology and to recognize that other people may see and experience the same thing completely differently. As David McCullough, Jr. said to his students, “Climb the mountain to see the world, not so the world can see you.” That’s a good perspective to have. Remember that your view, magnificent and well-earned as it may be, is just one way of seeing.

That’s appreciation of viewpoint diversity and it can positively change our lives and the world around us.

Just remember—if you believe that other people matter, then their views must matter too.

One Way to Think about a Life Well-Lived

What makes a life well-lived? If I could answer that question in a blog post, I’d be pretty impressive. Alas, I am not that impressive—yet I have been impressed by the literature and philosophies that try to get to the root of this question, and by the science that can help inform us more about some things we already know. For instance, we already know well-being matters and that certain elements are associated with the concept of well-being. Leaving health and vitality aside for a moment, when we consider psychological well-being, we can look at the concept of PERMA.

Dr. Martin Seligman defined a model of well-being comprised of five elements that form the acronym PERMA—positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement. While none of these elements fully defines well-being, each of them contributes to it. Having a better understanding of this theoretical model might help us maximize our own well-being, and science has shown some effective ways we can practically increase our PERMA in life:

Positive emotion—we know it’s a good thing to feel positive emotions like joy, happiness, wonder, and awe, but it’s also true that we each have a baseline in terms of how positive we can be. Still, there are ways we can focus our attention to make ourselves more positive people. One way to increase positive emotion is by writing down three things that went well at the end of each day. Read more.

Engagement is the feeling you have when you lose track of time because you are so absorbed in a task you enjoy. You’re expending effort, but it’s an effort aligned with your strengths. The way to increase engagement is to learn your strengths and apply them to your work. There are many tests you can take to learn about strengths, including the VIA Character Survey.

Relationships make an enormous impact on our well-being, so efforts to improve our communication with other people in our lives matter quite a bit. One of the best ways to improve relationships is by capitalizing on the good things—something that many people tend to overlook. This video on Active Constructive Response can show you how to celebrate good news in a way that builds better relationships.

Meaning is the need to make sense of life outside of ourselves. Seligman calls the self “an impoverished site for meaning.” It is essential to our well-being that we have some sort of purpose in life. Nietzsche said if we "have our own why in life, we shall get along with almost any how." It is important to often recall the greater impact of our work. Read more.

Achievement is something our culture tends to celebrate—but a sense of accomplishment can come in many forms, and it helps to try to work on a sense of mastery and competence. We need to build intrinsic motivation and one of the best ways to do that is by setting goals. Learn more about SMART goals.

Obviously, PERMA isn’t the only way to think about a life well-lived, but it is one way that can serve as an effective model to assess your own well-being. And the truth is that we can all be a little bit better today than we were yesterday. Why wait for tomorrow?