Blind Biases 3

Third of the four-part series Blind Biases” by Harry L. Strong

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”

— Brian McLaren

Catching Up to Lean Forward

Today we turn to the final four (4) of thirteen (13) biases identified by author, activist, and public theologian, Brian D. McLaren, which, McLaren believes, contribute significantly to the hatred, hostility, and polarization that pervades so much of our nation and world today.  Previously, we have noted nine (9) additional biases that McLaren suspects explain partially why we see things so differently from one another.  These include Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; Competency Bias; Consciousness Bias; Comfort or Complacency Bias; Conservative/Liberal Bias; and Confidence Bias.  To glean a more thorough understanding of what these biases entail and how they create stumbling blocks to healthy communication and understanding among people with conflicting opinions, the reference appears below to Brian McLaren’s e-book, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself).  So, what are four other biases that can dramatically impact our views of life and the world?  McLaren cites these:

Catastrophe or Normalcy Bias: I remember dramatic catastrophes but don’t notice gradual decline (or improvement).

Contact Bias: When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with “the other,” my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.

Ca$h Bia$: It’s hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.

Conspiracy Bias: Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, exonerate us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators. [1]

A Window and a Mirror

Did any one of these prompt you to think to yourself: “Oops!  ‘Never thought about that before, but that sounds like ME!”  If you identified one (or more) of those biases in yourself, good for you!  Give yourself a pat on the back for your openness and your vulnerability!  That’s one of the reasons McLaren published his e-book in the first place – so readers like us (you and I) would see our reflection in a mirror and ask: “OK, so now what?  Now that I’ve acknowledged this blind spot, how can I do something about it?  What can I do to change my perspective?”  The other reason McLaren believed his literary venture had some merit was so he could inspire folks like us to recognize biases in others who may not view the world the same way we do AND to motivate us to take the courageous step of looking out our window and reaching out to our sisters and brothers in pursuit of understanding and healing.

Contact Bias: Guilty as Charged

If you zeroed in on “Contact Bias” the way I did, perhaps that’s already occurred to you.  When I was serving as a pastor in a university community like Ames, Iowa, or State College, Pennsylvania, or in an urban setting like Trenton, New Jersey, or Memphis, Tennessee, daily I found myself encountering people who were not like me in appearance, heritage, values, economic status, lifestyle, faith perspective, and a myriad other ways.  Now, living in a golf course community in a town of 20,000 on the western slope of Colorado, hard as it is to hear: “When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with ‘the other,’ my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.”  Contact bias: guilty as charged.

So, if like me, you’ve identified Contact Bias as one likely impediment to your ability to understand and appreciate why other people may see things differently than you do, what can we (you and I) do about it? Fortunately, our instructor/mentor, Brian McLaren, can help.  His e-book is not just an academic analysis of our polarization plight.  Brian offers us some very practical bridge-building guidelines, at least one for each of the thirteen (13) biases he identifies.  What does he suggest related to Contact Bias?

Beyond Myopia (Nearsightedness)

Diagram of Myopia (Nearsightedness)

McLaren points us to Jesus and his intentional, unique way of reaching out to the other, including the other at the table, and putting the other in the spotlight by giving the other a voice.

We may protest: “But how does that help us when there are so few “others” in our geographical area?”  

I think McLaren might say something like this: “Maybe you need to reassess your definition of “others.”  The conflicts that plague our nation are not all related to racial ethnic, socio-economic, or religious differences.  No matter how homogeneous you may think your community is, topics like vaccinations, masking, gun control, individual rights vs. the common good, states’ rights vs. federal mandates are just a few of the issues that are traumatizing and polarizing our nation these days.  No matter how isolated and insulated you think you are where you live, what if you were to broaden your horizons a bit by exploring books, magazines, websites, blogs, news channels, and other venues that are outside your community?  

Remember that Community Bias? “It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.”  “Community” can refer to like-minded folks as well as to geography.  Nobody said it was going to be easy, but, one-on-one or in small groups, you can humanize the other by giving people with diverse opinions a spotlight and a voice.  Be intentional about trying to facilitate understanding and deeper relationships.  Again, like Jesus, engage people in storytelling and active, conscious listening.”

Sneak Peak

Wouldn’t it be great if we could conclude our consideration of Blind Biases by identifying Five Ways We Can Help Others to See What They Can’t See?  Guess what?  Brian McLaren can make that happen!  I look forward to getting together with you one more time for Blind Biases 4.  Meanwhile, let’s reflect on these wise words from Stephen Covey (which McLaren quotes in his chapter on Contact Bias): “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it.  That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”  Harry

)[1] Brian McLaren, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself), Self-published: 2019), e-book.

10 thoughts on “Blind Biases 3

  1. So glad you could access the Blind Biases series on Gordon’s blog Jim! Thanks for the “heads up” AND I really appreciate you and Susan trying to put some meat on the bones of Glen Meadows Diversity Statement. Though there were many rewards associated with 50+ years in 11 pastorates, there were also moments and meetings during which I wished I’d pursued that career in sports broadcasting! Grace, peace, love and a blessed Advent to you and Susan. Harry


    • I am reminded every Sunday why I was grateful to Jack Herring’s recommendation that I pursue a career outside the Presbyterian Church. “Your passion is Social Change and Justice. The Presbyterian Church has not worked for either.”
      I remember Jerry Hazelrigg’s admonition be for journeying to Selma-Montgomery
      March 1965 match. He was Associate at Fourth previously with the SCLC. “If you are in need of help on this journey from Selma to Montgomery and stop at a tall steeple Presbyterian Church you will be killed.”
      I look at the tasks required of a good pastor….I couldn’t on my best day do that.
      I can connect dots and be an appropriate irritant as a lay person.
      I told the Rector, “I can’t be fired. I can do things for you that you can’t do.

      The Cubs still need a good play by play.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Gordon and Harry,
          It went well. Herring suggested I would be happier as a layman working with others for social change and justice than as a Presbyterian Pastor. Every week has confirmed his advice.
          I served 3 Sessions for a total of 15 years. 13 of them were in Virginia. The Virginia churches were largely congregations made up of Methodist and Baptist. Trying to remain Baptist. I am more than pleased to be in a pew Saturday evening at The Episcopal Church of The Redeemer and Sunday Morning at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church. Thank you Dean Herring.


            • Challenging. This is easier to do on phone. PSL is Presbyterian in Name only. The PSL headquarters in Pennsylvania is Autocratic and never asks questions, dialogues, listens, or returns phone calls. A magnificent diversity statement with no effort to actualize the vision.
              The UPUSA could sue for using Presbyterian in corporate name. No affiliation whatsoever at this time.


    • Sandy, welcome back to Harry’s series. Basic respect for one another — the kind of respect that comes not from what someone has done, but from the fact of our shared humanity and human condition — increasingly is becoming a dinosaur. So, yes, starting where we are is where it starts. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Harry, this is a timely series. The Episcopal Church has been hosting a anti-racism 10 part series Sacred Ground. The European Immigrants to this continent have had a lasting impact. Mine, Mine, be it land, slave, rules, practices. White has become “Not Slave.”
    We live in a PSL Presbyterian Senior Living property Glen Meadows Senior Living. It is populated by 275 souls who look like me and Susan. PSL has a vibrant Diversity Statement. It has no meaningful plan, effort or visible intent on actualizing the diversity statement.
    Susan and I are having a meeting with the Executive Director re changing that fact today.
    Thank you Harry. It would have been a bit better if you had narrated it for us… After a Cubs game.


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