It’s a noble endeavor to aspire to change the world, to compel your fellow human beings to be more thoughtful, caring, and giving; to hold fast to these values and commit to one’s beliefs and philosophies to the extent one would rather die than compromise them. That the whole world would be better off if it cherished those values with the very same commitment.
Ironically, the above paragraph could be the mantra of two people with entirely different outlooks on the same issue. But if those two were invited to discuss the topic, chances are it would include heated rhetoric and shouting. And if it were to remain civil, the likelihood of either person embracing the other’s opinion would be slim at best.
Why is it so difficult for others to see our point of view and recognize the sincerity of our mission? What is it about our reasoning which defies their logic and does not make sense to them? Is it really that difficult for other people to see the error of their ways?
The blind spot
There are never any shortages of critics. Perhaps one of the simplest tasks we as humans perform is finding fault in others’ actions. But when that very same criticism is turned back on us, obviously a misunderstanding has occurred somewhere in the other person’s analysis.
There is a reason for this explains Emily Pronin, Associate Professor of psychology at Princeton University. She, along with other colleagues, coined the term “Bias blind spot” which describes the ability to recognize the impact bias holds on the judgment of others while failing to see its impact on themselves.
One contributing factor for this point of skew, is that most of us want to see ourselves in a positive light. We have continual access to our thoughts and intentions, but when observing others, we only have their actions on which to base our conclusions. Dr. Pronin attributes it also to the “introspection illusion” which has been shown in many experiments that people rate themselves less susceptible to biases than others.
The introspection illusion is running late for a meeting and thinking of reasons to explain your tardiness, but if someone else were late, deeming that person irresponsible. It is honking your horn at someone for a mishap yet being disappointed when others refuse to acknowledge or forgive your mistake.
Our biases are stem in large part from our families, culture, race, and the community in which we live. The way we learn to interact with people is one of the biggest external factors shaping the way we view, process, and perceive the world around us.
Many of us feel secure in our thinking and how we approach reasoning and logic. We may research, deliberate, and scrutinize a subject before coming to a conclusion and feel confident we’ve come up with the correct position. But how do we know the methods we’ve developed are beyond scrutiny?
When someone suffers a life-threatening heart condition, we trust the cardiologist to give us the latest, most effective medical advice. For some reason, we fail to give that same credence to psychologists who likewise have studied, practiced, and dedicated their lives to understanding how our minds work.
Having constant access to our minds sometimes creates justifications for our adverse behaviors. Without that same access to the thoughts of others, the simplest way to evaluate them is by their actions. However, if we had access to their mind and insights into their intentions, would it be enough to convince us of their true objectives?
We want to believe there is something unique and exclusive about our own thinking. That our opinions are based in sound reason, objective reality, and any bias which exists is only because it is the “right” conclusion.
Admittedly, this subject frequently runs through my mind. Am I giving others the benefit of the doubt, especially those with whom I disagree politically? Am I excusing myself for strongly criticizing someone else when I have acted similarly? Do I search for the speck in their eyes when a beam is protruding out of mine?
Dr. Pronin confesses she finds herself guilty of this on occasion. It is something highly likely to happen to all of us. If this is the case, what is the remedy?
As with many aspects of personal development, this takes practice. Start by realizing we all have a propensity for the “Bias blind spot.” Begin by acknowledging this and try to become aware when it happens. When the critic’s voice begins talking in your mind, ask yourself if it is based on unfairness or prejudice in your thought process.
Dr. Pronin revealed what helps her become aware of a bias reaction is when she is with her children. She doesn’t want to teach them this kind of behavior ought to be a typical reaction.
Many solutions to personal growth are rooted in showing concern and consideration for others. By being thoughtful, it instinctively lowers the tendency to react harshly or bear hostile feelings. When we show kindness, compassion, and love toward others, it significantly decreases the natural inclinations of our bias nature.
The world currently faces many challenges. Communities encounter civil strife, leaders divide their people, and nations turn on themselves mainly because of the refusal to acknowledge the preferential treatment bestowed onto those who are complicit with those same prejudices, preconceptions, and biases.
The greatest hope for reconciliation and healing is to begin with recognizing, individually, our own “Bias blind spots,” to embrace this human flaw, and encourage others to do the same. For it is when we all endeavor toward understanding one another, it becomes easier to forgive and work through the struggles of everyday life.