Just Because I’m Biased

My husband and I both laughed as we heard the voice from the video he was watching: “Just because I’m biased doesn’t mean I’m not right.”

Obviously, it stuck with me, because I’m writing about it months after I heard it!

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How We Tend to View Bias

Pig-headed, bigoted, arrogant, close-minded: these are phrases that I commonly hear when someone is speaking about bias, but the truth is that we are all biased. We have opinions based on our experiences, the experiences of others, and the things we have been taught.

The problem is that when our bias conflicts with someone else’s bias, we feel uncomfortable. Our minds are wired to instinctively find fault with the other person. What amounts to a difference of opinion becomes character flaws and personal attacks in our minds.

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What Bias Really Is

Bias really is nothing more than perspective. Throughout life, we suffer from the “witness effect.” The place you figuratively stand alters what you actually see.  That is why five people seeing the same crime can have five similar but different stories.

Life changes our perspective.

Then how can we be sure of our opinions?

Some things truly are “Only Common Sense.” Choosing a career as a thief is much more damaging to you and your community than if you choose a career of honest work. Logic and reason are still reasonably reliable tools. Also, there are things that simply “work.” If our habits, patterns, and biases aren’t causing us or others problems in life, then we have probably been doing things “right.”

How do I Deal with my Personal Bias?

First of all, remember the quote at the top of the post: it is possible to be both biased and right.

Then, create your guidelines. Here are my personal guidelines:

  • Listen to understand. I might just learn something and revise some of my viewpoints. At the very least, I will get to exercise my brain by thinking about what has been said and why I disagree.
  • Don’t take it personally. Even if the other person seems to be attacking you, there is something in their perspective that makes them feel that they need to attack. If you have not been deliberately offensive, it’s not on you — although you can be kind and apologize or try to diffuse the tension of the moment.
  • Stay civil. We lose all that is valuable in a disagreement when we check our civility at the door.

 

What are some of your biases? How have you formed them? How do you deal with others who have opposing biases? Comment!

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What’s Fair in History Class?

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St. Jude - Edited

The news article I’m mostly referring to today came to me via a friend on Facebook, but it was published on the PBS Newshour website. I was a little disappointed that PBS would support an article that was missing a huge necessary element of teaching and learning history.

On the surface, this appears to be a well-written, thoughtful opinion about how history has been taught incorrectly and our heroes aren’t heroes at all. The article even postulates that American history teachers have been lying to their students. Columbus and his successors kidnapped, murdered, enslaved, and even endorsed the rape of indigenous people in the Americas. In fact, the article even creates a connection with Dr. Martin Luther King — both Columbus and Dr. King have “personal” holidays, but Dr. King is presented as having higher moral character.

Ignoring allegations that have been levied throughout the years that Dr. King had his own moral failings, I still don’t think that teaching students about historical monstrosities through the lens of modern moral superiority does anyone any justice, either.

History has to be taught in context. 600 years ago, modern American and European men would probably be considered weak and effeminate. Serving one’s sovereign without question was a sign of good character. The rules of war and conquest were different back then. The list could go on and on.

I am not suggesting that we continue teaching fallacies: I, in fact, have occasionally referred to Pilgrim’s first harvest festival as the “original American redneck party” because it turns out that there were a bunch of (presumably) drunk men shooting guns for sport. It’s a conclusion I came to after reading a historical artifact at Plimoth.org.

I am simply advocating that we teach history in context, understanding that cultural norms and expectations have changed. We don’t have to agree, we don’t have to condone, but we do have to accept these differences and teach them appropriately. In my opinion, teaching history in any other way is irresponsible.

 

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is past, what are your thoughts on the history and the controversy of the holiday?

Why Thanksgiving?

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In about five days, the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. In recent years, we seem to collectively become awkward with this holiday:

  • Five-ish years ago, retail stores began pushing Christmas sales right after Halloween to raise profits. This year, it appears that an increasing number of people have followed the trend and put up their Christmas decorations as soon as they removed the ones from Halloween.
  • Most of us now have to admit that our forefathers’ attitude of superiority and conquest causes us some measure of discomfort. While the Pilgrims opened a new era for Anglo-Saxons and America has been a great place to live and a game-changer for the world, this same series of events precipitated the decimation of thousands of unique cultures through the spread of disease, war, and brute force. From our cultural perspective, it looks like an overgrown case of “finders-keepers, and it doesn’t sit well in our psyches.
  • America’s current rhetorical about immigrants — legal and illegal — can be offensive to those in our country who are not of Anglo-Saxon descent. There is little in the holiday for people of other cultural heritages to connect to.
  • The traditional stories are actually wrong. The Peanuts movie is great for touchy-feelies, but it perpetuates myths about what really happened and why. These same myths have been perpetuated in schools throughout the nation for decades. (After doing a little historical research, I have sometimes found myself referring to the harvest festival as the first drunken redneck party in America.)

 

Since the Thanksgiving holiday is so politically charged and drags so much baggage with it, why bother to celebrate?

Here are my reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving:

  1. No matter how dysfunctional we may think our family is, they are our family. We have blood and common life experiences that tie us together. Even the most reclusive human is wired for some connectedness. Without a sense of connection, mental health suffers. We need each other, no matter how much we manage to irritate each other.
  2. Traditions connect us to our collective past and are passed down to future generations. Traditions create a sense of security and help us define where we fit. Traditions ground us and stabilize us.
  3. If we decide to leave all of the negativity and baggage surrounding the holiday alone for one day, setting at least one day a year aside to be grateful for all of the good that surrounds us is a beautiful thing. We pick and choose our focus, and our focus determines what occupies our mental and emotional energy. We can actually reduce the draining effect of negativity in our lives through practicing gratitude and appreciation. (Sure, the bad things are still there, but they don’t look nearly as bad.)

Do you have a Thanksgiving tradition or gratitude routine or habit that is special to you? Share in the comments!

Thanksgiving and Welfare

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In the United States, we are entering our season of Thanksgiving. We celebrate the story of the Pilgrims’ courageous voyage across the ocean to find freedom and their survival through to a good harvest the following year.

I’m going to skip all of the issues surrounding the Native Americans who already lived there, white conquest, and the inaccuracies most Americans believe about the whole story.

Instead, I want to focus on how we handle the problem of poverty. Many Americans will take some time during the Thanksgiving season to “give back” as part of helping their children as well as themselves remember to have gratitude for their blessings. On the surface, it’s a great idea. It’s the rest of the year that concerns me.

For instance, is the holiday season (Thanksgiving and Christmas) the only time that we consider the condition of those who are less fortunate than ourselves? What do we do during the rest of the year? Do we expect the government to solve the problem of poverty? Worse, do we gripe about how much of our taxes are going to welfare recipients?

Just to Put Salve on Our Consciences

The problem with the first attitude is that the service we render isn’t really for the people we are serving. We serve in soup lines, write a check, or donate our unwanted belongings to charity so that we can pat ourselves on the back for being good people, good examples, and good citizens.  It’s as if we never consider how insufficient such sporadic charitable giving really is.

The Government Should Do It

I think we forget that our government isn’t a business. It doesn’t create value or wealth. It simply moves money from one place (or group of people) to another — often very inefficiently because politicians skim money along the way for pet projects and to pacify constituents. So, if we ask the government to solve our problems, we are actually asking for higher taxes and unproductive programs.

Grassroots Solutions

The only true way to both live in gratitude and to solve deep problems like poverty is to make “doing something” a personal mandate and a lifestyle. We need to choose our solutions carefully because problems like poverty are multifaceted.

  • People in poverty often have underlying problems. Many of our homeless citizens and those receiving public assistance often have mental health or physical health issues that are not being properly treated. Unless those things are treated first, trying to teach and train such people is a futile battle.
  • Especially in cases of generational poverty, we can be battling intelligence deficits caused by prolonged malnutrition and life chaos. It’s no secret that the poorer a person is, the more likely that person is to have suffered hunger and improper eating habits (what do you expect when a soda and chips are cheaper than fruits and veggies) as well as abuse, neglect, and/or crime. All of these things can create physical deficits in the human brain.
  • Generational poverty creates a culture of poverty. Growing up in poverty affects your attitudes toward life and your ideas of how the world works. Especially when those of us who have experienced more successful lives are placating our consciences by giving money and material things and not doing anything more.
  • “Teaching a man to fish.” For those of us on the outside looking in, the easiest solution is to keep throwing money at the problem of poverty. It takes less time and effort than helping someone overcome a lifetime of poverty and trying to solve individual problems. Working toward true solutions is even more frustrating when the person you are trying to help can’t see the benefits of the more difficult path of learning to become self-reliant and ultimately (we hope) successful.

So, as Americans prepare to give thanks for the good things in life, I hope we can all stop and consider a new approach to showing our gratitude. Let’s look for organizations to support that are treating the underlying symptoms of the problems we hope to help solve, and let’s plan to make service and giving of ourselves a way of life rather than a seasonal ritual. Above all, let’s stop griping about “them” — especially if we aren’t doing anything ourselves — and expecting the government to do something about it!

Correcting my own Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy-new-dimensionThis past Saturday, I made a big goof. Feeling a bit pressed for time and wanting to cover a lot of ground, I commented on four different news stories that I had read recently. (This idea of being pressed for time isn’t new — I caught my mistake Sunday, but I’m just now able to make the time to write out this post!) I basically blasted the people involved for not thinking and for not following more productive paths. I didn’t make any suggestions about how those involved could have made better choices or about how underlying problems could be solved. I just blasted away — guilty of the same behavior of which I was accusing others!

So, having recognized my error, I would like to extend the post by making positive suggestions for solutions.

Here’s my second attempt:

Altercation between White Lives Matter supporters and interracial couple in Brentwood under police investigation: 

I will respect everyone’s right to hold their own opinions. The biggest problem I have here is that one group attempted to force their opinion upon others. That’s where they crossed the line.

  1. Change through force isn’t change, it’s coercion. It either leads to abuse of others, or it leads to incidents like the one in this article, where violence erupts.
  2. The best we can offer others is respectful, thoughtful dialogue. We need to do our own thinking, and we need to allow others that same privilege.
  3. Surprisingly (to many people), the most good comes when we try to understand the perspectives of others and seek to find common ground.

 

Why Some Black and Brown People Can’t Trust Bernie Sanders, in 1 Quote:

I actually kind of hinted at the solution to this sort of situation: looking at all of the evidence. This is a case where one person “cherry picked” a quote and used it out of context — probably of the conversation and definitely out of the track record of years of public service.

Research exists that suggests that human brains will only collect evidence that supports our pre-conceived notions unless we actively work against it. Two of the best cures is to adopt a wait-and-see attitude and to investigate further.

 

NFL kneeling protests based on false claims and misleading media reports:

Again, I actually used about 1/2 a sentence to offer a solution. Again, I support the efforts of “We, the People” to cure problems. Protests don’t directly create change. Rolling up our sleeves and getting directly involved in creating a solution does.

I agree that there are times when we need to speak up. But, as I wrote earlier in this post, speaking up needs to be done respectfully, thoughtfully, and with good, solid evidence to back it up.

Education NGO Faces Backlash from Academics After Retracting Essay Citing Intelligence Research:

At this point, I’ve already written what I think would be the best course of action: listening to opposing opinions respectfully, even if they don’t fit with current popular ideas or even our own worldview. Listen to understand the true concerns of the other person. Listen to see where we have common ground. Listen to see if there is already a solution that the other person doesn’t already know about.

We need to stop fearing and being offended by people who think differently from ourselves. Looking at things from all sides is how we begin to see life in its true light.

 

How Did we Get Here?

question-markI am astounded as I read articles and headlines about what is happening in the United States and throughout the world.

Last week, I wrote about victimhood and this fad that seems to be overrunning our culture that someone else needs to fix it when bad things happen to me. I hope, that as I wrote, I never gave the impression that we are to never seek help! Instead, the idea is that we should never sacrifice our power by believing that we are completely helpless. Once babies begin to crawl, they begin the process of being able to act and to choose. We don’t lose those powers.

Today, I am going to speak to some headlines that I have been collecting over the past few weeks. I had intended to write about them separately, but I just don’t have the time!

Altercation between White Lives Matter supporters and interracial couple in Brentwood under police investigation: I can understand how Caucasians, especially white men, feel like they are being marginalized and criminalized for race and gender in the current political climate. I can understand the desire to speak up and speak out. But I don’t get harassing people who were quietly going about their own lives and not bothering you! How on earth does this draw sympathy to your cause?

Personally, I have become convinced that white privilege is real. I’m not convinced that it is a sinister plot against anyone. Instead, I think it is an outgrowth of the history of this country and largely invisible to those who enjoy it. I think we still have work to do in giving everyone an equal chance to excel and be the best that they can be.

I also think that we can do this without marginalizing anyone. All that does is reverse roles in society. Tearing others down doesn’t build anything. “Building a bigger table” and inviting others to share what we have is much more productive. So, what aren’t we? Why are we picking fights and demonizing groups of people?

Why Some Black and Brown People Can’t Trust Bernie Sanders, in 1 Quote: If I have ever seen a case of nitpicking paranoia, I think this opinion article is a classic! In trying to communicate his ideas, he mentioned Latinos, LGBTQ, and blacks. He then moved on to a sentence where he mentions “ordinary Americans.” For this writer, this is proof, case closed, that Bernie Sanders doesn’t see the Latinos, LGBTQ, and blacks as “ordinary Americans,” but as separate and distinct!

Yes, Bernie Sanders is a white male. Yes, he has probably enjoyed privilege because of his gender and race. His gender, race, and age do affect his word choice. But, to take one statement out of a lifetime to “prove” that he has some hidden agenda is absurd!

At some point, we have all got to develop a thicker skin and stop sweating the small stuff! While I don’t agree with Bernie Sanders’ political views, I think that his entire career should be scrutinized before anyone assigns him a secret agenda based on word choice in two sentences!

NFL kneeling protests based on false claims and misleading media reports: Ugh. I am not a fan of the kneeling protests. I believe that anyone who lives in the United States benefits from living here. Perhaps it’s not as wonderful as we would dream it would be, but I kind of lean toward the sentiment that there are a bunch of grown men who are making truckloads more than I will ever earn in my lifetime protesting because America isn’t fair. It looks a lot like hypocrisy to me.

Instead of offending veterans of all ethnic backgrounds who gave their time, limbs, sanity, and even lives to give you the chance to make absurd amounts of money because you can throw and catch a ball, why aren’t you out there doing something proactive? There are many celebrities that have started charitable foundations, restaurants that will give those who are homeless a free meal, etc. They didn’t make a huge, public scene — they got off the rumps and did something!

Education NGO Faces Backlash from Academics After Retracting Essay Citing Intelligence Research: This one comes to us from England, but it’s worth a mention because these types of stories happen in the United States, as well. In this article, an educational institution that is responsible for training teachers removed a research article that had been posted on its website because it challenged the prevailing ideologies of the educational establishment. The paper was removed even though the author had followed all of the requirements and the university had published it alongside an opposing paper.

What was the problem? The author of the paper had gone back through studies and concluded that education cannot solve all of our society’s ills. He had the audacity to suggest that children who are hungry and improperly nourished can’t be educated to the same degree as children who come from homes where their nutritional needs are adequately met. He came to the same conclusion about children who have “disrupted childhoods”: abuse, neglect, marginalization, violence in the community, etc.

As someone who taught for 16 years and is still working with children, I can tell you he’s right. I can also tell you that blaming the teacher hasn’t helped. We have made some gains, but when the brain can’t grow properly because it isn’t nourished properly, there is no educational program that can overcome it!

So, what is going on here?

It must be human nature, but it’s a part of our nature that we need to overcome:

  • blame someone else for the problem,
  • create a fuss,
  • demand that someone (not me!) needs to do something about it,
  • expect to sit back and reap the rewards with no real effort.

In each of these stories, that is the theme I see. We have become accustomed to reacting. It’s time to get out there and thoughtfully start proacting.

It’s your turn! What would you like to see happening to improve our nation and world? What kind of organization would you form or join?

Catching Subtle Messages

personality-dreamsI stumbled across a news article and was curious about how personalities might affect sleep. It turns out the personalities were divided into introverts and extroverts. (Surprisingly, I’m not going to take issue with the division of personalities, although this was a very simplistic way to group people!) I was not excited about the results of the study but felt pleased that introverts were well described. As an introvert, I find that I can be readily misunderstood when I try to explain my personal inclinations.

Then I looked at the graphics, one of which I have included here. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. Introversion has nothing to do with self-confidence, and it is not the same as being shy! Perhaps the graphic artist felt that he or she was representing the sleep habits of introverts and extroverts, but the message seems to be that we should all want to be extroverts.

As I have matured in life, I have gained an appreciation for personal connections and time with good friends. I have learned the value of collaboration and the sense of security that comes from knowing that there are people in my life upon whom I can call in an emergency. I’m not knocking extroverts — they bring the world together and teach us cooperation.

I do, however, think we need to gain a deeper appreciation for those who need stillness and downtime to recharge their emotional batteries. We need to be grateful for those who spend time on their own to think deep thoughts and quietly examine solutions to problems. Introverts also bring needed benefits to the world.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What do you think are the downsides to your personality? What positive things does your personality bring to the world? Comment!