About three months ago, I had the opportunity to accompany a small group of students to Washington, DC. Our Indiana group of 20 students and four adults spent the morning of our last day in the Senate Office Building talking to our Indiana Senators, Mike Braun and Todd Young. The Senators thoughtfully fielded many insightful questions from the high school students.

One of our most passionate – and compassionate - students asked each of the Senators what their opinion was regarding the increased polarization found in both politics and the “us vs. them” attitudes and belief systems of so many people in society today. It was Senator Young’s response to the question that resulted in a lot of stimulating conversation long after we had left the Senate building. His response was – and I quote - “It makes my heart bleed.”

Senator Young went on to provide a few different explanations as to why he believes such sharp dividing lines exist in the world of politics that so often carry over to society at large. A large chunk of the culprit – according to him – is social media. Algorithms keep us plugged in with those that further reinforce our opinions – resulting in even more extreme beliefs. Technology makes it easier to lie and spread misinformation more quickly.

Another simple explanation offered by the Senator was that it seems more people are simply less willing to admit when they make mistakes. And they are less willing to possibly revise their views – even in the face of much evidence that refutes their views. However, Senator Young made it clear he doesn’t believe the current state of society is all gloom and doom. He said he believes it has been worse before in the past. We made it through those times just like we’ll make it through these current challenging times.

Our Indiana contingent had several good discussions on the way home regarding their takeaways from our US Senators – particularly Senator Young’s “It makes my heart bleed” statement.

One particularly perceptive student asked the group if they had ever heard of the notion of intellectual humility and its counterpart (intellectual arrogance) that she had recently been reading so much about. She went on to explain both concepts after drawing blank stares from her peers. Her summary of intellectually humble people described them as those that consider they could be wrong or that their views are eligible for revision in the face of contrary evidence.

She added that intellectual humility involves acknowledging the fact that we might at times rely on either faulty or incomplete information or that we ourselves are not experts in categories that we simply aren’t.

Her explanation of intellectual arrogance included an unwillingness to acknowledge competing information, less of a desire to learn new things and less tolerance of those they disagree with. She went on by saying that intellectually arrogant people have stronger emotional reactions when people disagree with them and are much more likely to disparage people that hold different views from theirs. In other words, they are more likely to promote “us vs. them” thinking as compared to intellectually humble people that are more likely to be open to the opinions of others and to take them seriously.

Needless to say, this student’s musings led to more stimulating conversation with her peers. In one of my readings since returning from our trip, I came across a thought –provoking statement: “The most powerful force on this planet is human cooperation – a force for construction and destruction.”

Here’s hoping we can find more cooperation leading to construction rather than destruction. In order to do that, we have to take on a perspective of intellectual humility and be willing to accept that our beliefs aren’t necessarily the best for everybody, nor should they be the beliefs of everybody. Hopefully, intellectual arrogance can lessen, and we can communicate with one another respectfully with open ears – rather than just talking over those we disagree with instead of actually engaging with them.

I want to conclude by saying “thanks” to the student that asked the tough question of Senators Braun and Young. I learned a lot from her and the ensuing conversations that occurred with her peers. May she and so many others continue to engage with others in such meaningful, challenging and thought-provoking ways.