By: Michelle Gunnin
What Lens Do You Use to See the World?
After our fourth child was born, my husband said to me, “Our kids are the cutest kids, don’t you think?”
I laughed and replied, “Every parent thinks their kids are the cutest, smartest, best-looking kids.” To which he said, “I know they all think that, but ours really are.”
I cannot think of a better example of bias than parenthood. All our dreams, previous experiences, and expectations for the future are swaddled in that little pink or blue blanket.
We only see what we want to see and are blind to anything that doesn’t fit into our paradigm.
Our kids are the nicest, funniest, best looking, best-behaved kids out there. We don’t see it any other way and even when reality begins to seep in to bring the truth, we shut our eyes and ears to it, thinking we have the most objective view.
Kids, Politics, and the Faulty Lens
Any teacher can tell you that parents have a bias when it comes to their kids. In fact, in recent years, parents all but refuse to consider their child might have some flaws. If they are talking too much, the teacher’s lack of classroom management comes into question. If they bully others, they are just “standing up for themselves.”
For every less than desirable behavior, there is an excuse, or out and out denial that it exists at all. In the end, there is a sense of mistrust that is born between parent and teacher which causes uncomfortable division between the two. It is a sad state of affairs because the loser is the child.
In current events, particularly politics, it is the same. Each party looks through their own bias. They view their opinions like we see our kids. The best, smartest, most ideal thoughts on the planet. Heaven forbid anyone thinks differently or dare to question our version of the truth. When that happens excuses and denials rule, mistrust is the result and division follows. All our past experiences, all our hopes, and dreams for the future, ride upon the backs of our biases. There is not one person on this spinning sphere who is without bias.
What Exactly is a Bias?
The dictionary definition of the word is ‘a disproportionate weight in favor or against one thing, person, idea, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.’
In psychology, there are lists of cognitive biases, social biases, decision making, belief and behavior biases. If you read these lists and their descriptions, you will find more biases in your thinking than you might have previously believed.
Stereotyping is one type of bias of which we are all familiar. We may not be as familiar with naïve realism however. It is the belief that we see reality as it really is; objectively and as fact; rational people agree with us because we are objective and logical in our conclusions; those who don’t agree are lazy, uninformed, irrational, or “biased.”
Ironic that our bias causes us to draw conclusions that others are biased when they don’t agree with us!
My Point of View
The point is, we all have our own point of view. Our preconceptions are born out of life experiences. My thoughts and opinions, even the subconscious ones, are formed through how and where I was raised, my socioeconomic status, what my life has been like, the trials I have faced, the beliefs and values I have been taught or picked up from my environment. My ideas will be vastly different than someone who comes from a different background, was born into a different socioeconomic status, or has different beliefs and values than I do.
I recently returned from a trip to Africa, where I go a couple of times a year to train teachers in a refugee camp.
Nowhere are my American cultural biases more evident to me than in a group of refugees who have fled their war-torn country. I find I assume things, only to realize they do not see things the same way. Click To Tweet
We laugh about it, and they explain the refugee viewpoint, which comes from living in day to day survival mode for years. It blows my mind, every time.
Here’s a simple example for you. There is trash all around the school where we are training. We encouraged them to pick it up and put it in a trash can. Pretty simple, right? Only, there are no trash cans, because there is no trash pick-up.
And what I think of as trash, like plastic bags, paper wads, and water bottles, they think of as resources.
The kids can’t buy toys, so they make them from what I consider trash. I saw a plastic bag kite flying. A water bottle truck, with bottle cap wheels, and a string to pull it.
My bias said, ‘this is trash that needs to be disposed of,’ and theirs said, ‘these are resources with which to build things I need.’
Writing, Bias, and Seeing Past our Distortions
So, why the lesson on bias? As writers, we need to be aware of the way we see things. If you are writing or reading political blogs right now, you know what I mean. Each side cannot see past their own biases. They are not willing to admit they even have any. It makes for some inflammatory and emotional exchanges which are equivalent to handwritten fist fights. While those kinds of posts may increase your hits, they don’t have the depth of insight needed to actually make any changes.
Writers used to be known for their perceptiveness in understanding people and situations. They were the thoughtful ones who sat back to analyze before jumping into the conversation, and when they did finally offer their opinion, it was thought-provoking. It caused the reader to stop for a moment and think. It was not free from bias, but it was written with the understanding that biases are part of every person involved in the discussion. Different positions on a topic were considered and even given voice in the midst of opposing views.
Not to say that these writers didn’t use emotion, but they did so sparingly, as to make their point after the presentation of the dilemma. It was an art form of first informing the readers which then led to persuasion.
How Can Writers Use Bias in Healthy Ways?
Build trust with your readers.
First and foremost, your reader must trust that you will keep their interests in the heart of your writing and that you are not just blowing off steam about your frustrations with a topic. If they know you are considerate of the biases of others, even if you don’t agree, they will be more likely to listen when you have an opinion to offer.
Think before writing. Take into consideration your own bias. Look at the topic and see it from your viewpoint. Look at how you might be leaning in one way or another because of your bias.
Consider other perspectives.
Look at the biases of those who oppose or think differently than you do. The way they see an issue is due to the way they were raised, their life experiences, and how their beliefs were formed. Since I am not a refugee, I cannot understand fully what it is like to be without a home. My writing should reflect ideas other than my own, with sensitivity and understanding.
Be honest with yourself.
Biases are sometimes hard to see in ourselves. Yet, as a writer, if you are not aware of yours, your readers will see a shallowness born from self-ignorance.
Be truthful with your reader.
Readers cannot relate to those who are so egocentric as to not have flaws. For me to recognize my bias, and then to share it, takes courage. Readers love to reward brave writers with their loyalty. They feel the transparency, and they appreciate the heart, more than just rambling, emotional rants.
Overcoming our biases to become thoughtful writers is a critical and much-needed skill in our current world. Practicing these points will make us all better writers, and better communicators, which is the first step to unity and understanding.