Bias, It’s Not Just for Fabrics

Cutting on the bias

Cutting on the bias

Bias.  We all have it.  We don’t tend to recognize it, except in others.  Even when it’s pointed out to us, we tend to deny that we have a selective reality.  Bias is an in-born tendency that has us finding justifications to defend our perception of reality, and then calling it basic logic or morality.   When was the last time you had an argument about something that cannot be proven one way or another?  For me, much too recently.

This tendency, to see bias in others but to be blind to our own prejudices,  contributes to another human tendency – hypocrisy.   At the risk of being a hypocrite, I wish to explore this topic anyway with hopes that we can all learn from it.

Here’s how it works, according to Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis.

  1. We have a gut feeling in response to a situation.
  2. We then selectively find evidence to support our feelings and ignore any refuting evidence.  This absence of logic increases when we feel threatened or the stakes are high.
  3. We then brand our feelings as logical or moralistic, but often the viewpoint is actually self-serving.  Remember, this dynamic occurs on a subconscious level, so we are not aware that we are justifying feelings, not logic.  People who view themselves as highly moral are no more likely to make moral decisions than those that do not view themselves as especially moral.  When behaving immorally we may overcompensate and trumpet our virtue to give the appearance of virtue, to ourselves and others (I believe this type of hypocrisy is especially apparent in politics.)  “She doth protest too much,” – William Shakespeare
  4. We also tend to be exceedingly forgiving or generous with our own self-assessment.  The good news here is that this tendency tends to make us happier, healthier and better liked.  On the other hand, when our self-esteem is threated (someone reveals our hypocrisy), we may lash out to defend our delusion.
  5. We may then use should statements.  After all, we are uniquely able to see reality, and we are above average in intelligence and moral compass.  “This should happen,” “He should do that,” etc.   Such beliefs cause anger and resentment when the should fails to occur.
  6. Believing that we see the world in a uniquely unbiased way allows us to develop constructs and absolutes like good and evil.  The bad news here is the combination of our generous self-assessment and good/evil absolutes, can cause us to believe that the end (eradicating what we believe to be unambiguous evil) justifies the means.  “He deserves it,” “She had it coming,” “They have no right to…”

Given that we are all in this delusional bubble together (but also separate, since I know reality and you don’t), how can we learn from this?  Haidt recommends cognitive therapy:  write down your thoughts, recognize distortions in your thoughts, and find a more appropriate thought.  He also recommends training the mind with meditation.

I think it’s also useful to know what the red flags are to help identify when bias and hypocrisy are at play.   Pay particular attention to 1)  should statements or beliefs; 2) feelings of certainty; 3) self-justifying or defending ourselves or our position;  4) feeling like we’re on the moral high ground.

With fabric, when you cut on the bias (45 degrees from the direction of the threads), the fabric is more stretchy and resilient compared to when cutting against the bias.  Similarly, by improving our self-awareness and our tendency towards bias and hypocrisy, we can become less hypocritical, and more accommodating and responsive to the perspectives of others.

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