BLIND BIASES 4

Coming to the End – – A Word of Thanks

All good thing come to an end, they say. Harry Strong’s series on biases is one of them. Thank you, my old friend, for introducing us to Brian McLaren’s framework and the building blocks of a more honest, compassionate, and useful way to identify and seek understanding of our own biases and the those biases of relatives, friends, and, “dare I say it?,” threats and enemies. Harry’s series led me to reflect on belly-buttons. Every human being has a belly-button! — Gordon

Blind Biases 4 by friend and colleague Harry Strong

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

Brian mclaren

Quick Review.  Brian D. McLaren has identified thirteen (13) Biases which partially explain why we see thing so differently from one another: Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; Competency Bias; Consciousness Bias; Comfort or Complacency Bias; Conservative/Liberal Bias; and Confidence Bias; Catastrophic or Normalcy Bias; Contact Bias; Ca$h Bia$; and Conspiracy Bias. [1]  All of these can dramatically impact our views of life and the world.

An Email from Mitch

As our Blind Bias “class” draws to a close I’d like to share with you an email I received recently from my friend, Mitch.  He wrote this: 

“I am at a loss as to how to bridge the gap to a better understanding between myself (and MY strongly held political positions) and my friends (and THEIR strongly held political positions) when our positions on critical issues are at such opposite poles of the political spectrum.  I am finding it is putting a real cramp on what used to be casual and friendly conversations among us.  I AM SURE my opinions are right.  But when I come down off of that perch of righteousness – I have to concede that JUST MAYBE if I learn to be a better listener JUST PERHAPS my friend is not my enemy – but an ally.  If we work TOGETHER (the hard part indeed) we can identify how to move forward in ways that promote understanding of the importance of each person’s position to each individual yet the need to accommodate at least a little bit of the other person’s position so the greater good is achieved.  My challenge is I am not yet that person and I would welcome learning how to become better at achieving that goal.”

email from Mitch

Frankly, it was Mitch’s honest and vulnerable testimony that motivated me to read Brian McLaren’s e-book. [1]  

Shifting Attention

As Brian McLaren shifts our attention from Recognizing Biases to Overcoming Biases, he offers this disclaimer regarding the above quotation which introduced each of the first three “classes” we’ve shared together:  “When I said earlier ‘People can’t see what they can’t see …,’ I was telling the truth, but not the whole truth.  Here’s how that sentence should be completed to be more fair and full: ‘People can’t see what they can’t see unless someone helps them see it.’”  To that end, McLaren offers the following recommendations:

Five Ways We Can Help Others to See What They Can’t See

SURPRISE PEOPLE WITH WHO YOU ARE.  Show kindness, empathy, curiosity, fairness, acceptance, patience, decency, boldness, and humility.  Put understanding and acceptance before agreement, making it safe for people to confront their biases.  Tell stories about times when you failed to face your biases and misconceptions.  Demonstrate fairness by admitting (and addressing) the downsides of your position and the upsides (as well as the downsides) of other positions.  Seek to win friends instead of arguments, since people would rather learn from friends than critics, opponents, or enemies.  People will not believe your message until they find you, the messenger, believable.  In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do. — Stephen Covey

SHOW BEFORE YOU TELL.  Use experiential learning (field trips, introductions to “the other,” immersive artistic experiences, simulations, demonstrations, learning games, etc.) whenever possible, helping people step into the shoes of others and see from new vantage points, and following up the experience with honest reflection and conversation.

KEEP IT SIMPLE AND DOABLE.  Whenever possible, find one simple point of agreement or make one simple proposal for consideration or offer one simple, doable, immediate step that can be taken in the right direction, followed by questions and conversation.

CONNECT EMOTIONALLY.  If a person is afraid or angry, don’t shame them or tell them not to feel as they do.  Instead, try to understand their emotion, and then convey, with emotion, that you can see why they feel as they do.

EXPECT THIS TO BE HARD.  Remember that the human brain is structured for safety, efficiency, ease, and comfort, so biases are working against accepting messages that are perceived as unfamiliar, complicated, dangerous, inconvenient, or uncomfortable.  Don’t expect people to be other than human.  Show patience and persistence.  And take advantage of research to help you learn what is most likely to work. [1] 

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, deep breath!  Are we willing to move beyond appreciating McLaren’s analysis of our Biases to the more important and challenging phase of trying to make some changes in our own lives and the lives of others?  That is the $64,000 question, isn’t it?  What is our next step?  I guess we’ll each have to answer that question for ourselves.

My Next Steps

I’ll tell you my next steps.  First, I’m going to send a copy of Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) to Mitch for a Thanksgiving present.  Second, I’m going to invite my neighbor, Larry, over to the house for an adult beverage.  (Some of you will recall Larry from my Blind Bias 2 post.  Remember, Larry told me: “I’m not biased or prejudiced about anything.  I have my opinions and my perspectives, but I try to be as objective as possible about everything.”)  I’ll tell Larry about how hard it was for me to overcome the racism implanted in me as a child by my Uncle Herb who lived on Chicago’s south side and every Thanksgiving would rail against the encroaching “African Americans” (not Uncle Herb’s words) who were destroying the value of his home.  I’ll ask Larry if he ever had to unlearn anything.  I’ll listen.  Then, Larry may need a second drink, because next I’m giving him a copy of McLaren’s book as well.  Baby steps, I know.  I pledge to continue “working the program.”  

Thanks so very much for the privilege of your company during our time with Brian McLaren.

Whatever your next steps, may they be grounded in listening, leveling, and loving.  Harry

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

Blind Biases 3

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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.

BLIND BIASES 2

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Second in a four-part series on BLIND BIASES 2 by Harry L. Strong

If you joined me for “Biases 1,” welcome back!

If you didn’t, you may be wondering: “So then, why should I keep reading?

Not a Problem. Let me “catch you up” in a hurry.

“People can’t see what they can’t see.”  Brian D. McLaren

Catching Up

Author, activist, and public theologian Brian D. McLaren has created a remarkably helpful way of assisting us in understanding what makes us see things so differently from one another.  McLaren has identified thirteen (13) biases that contribute to the way people view life and the world and lead them to such polarizing conclusions from one another.  For our convenience, he has managed to categorize them, each beginning with the letter “C.”  

Previously, we took a quick look at how McLaren labels Biases 1 through 5: Confirmation Bias; Complexity Bias; Community Bias; Complementarity Bias; & Competency Bias.  In a moment we’ll consider Biases 6-9.  I’ll choose one and tell you what I learned about myself as I considered my own reflection in my “Bias Mirror.”  Then, if you so choose, you may do the same.  Chances are, we’ll be much more charitable and effective in inviting another into a conversation about why we view a topic so differently if we’ve tried to remove our own “blinders” first.

A Conversation with Larry

But before I share with you Brian’s second set of Biases, let me tell you about a brief conversation I had with a neighbor last week.  While I was out walking my dog, I ran into Larry who asked me what I’d been up to lately.  I told him I was writing a series of articles about “Biases.”  Can you guess what he said next?  “I’m not biased or prejudiced about anything.  I have my opinions and my perspectives, but I try to be as objective as possible about everything!”

I don’t think Larry is alone.  I’m guessing most folks become defensive if someone insinuates they are biased or prejudiced.  The conversation prompted me to come home and “ask Mr. Webster” [1} how he would define all four of Larry’s words.  Here’s what I learned:

Bias: “a mental leaning or inclination; partiality; bent.”

Prejudice: “a judgment or opinion formed before the facts are known (or in disregard of facts that contradict it); preconceived idea, favorable, or, more usually, unfavorable; unreasonable bias.”

Opinion: “a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what seems true, valid, or probable to one’s own mind.”

Perspective: “a specific point of view in understanding or judging things or events, especially one that shows them in their true relations to one another.”

Fascinating!  I couldn’t help but notice the phrase “unreasonable bias” in the definition of prejudice.  That would seem to suggest that there IS such a thing as reasonable bias.”  Granted, most of us, as we ponder our conclusions about life and the world, are far more comfortable with the less judgmental and less inflammatory terms “opinion” and “perspective.”

McLaren’s Biases Six through Nine

            I’ve likely devoted far too much time to this little grammar-aside.  Let’s invite Brian McLaren back to the lectern to tell us about Biases 6 through 9 that he has identified.

Consciousness Bias: Some things simply can’t be seen from where I am right now.  But if I keep growing, maturing, and developing, someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.

Comfort or Complacency Bias: I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.

Conservative/Liberal Bias: I lean toward nurturing fairness and kindness, or towards strictly enforcing purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, as an expression of my political identity.

Confidence Bias: I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false.  I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth. [2]

            I’m choosing to confess what I perceive to be the most potentially controversial and explosive bias of the four: Conservative/Liberal Bias.  I concede, without apology, that I bring a “Liberal Bias” to my keyboard.  Having said that, I want to underscore McLaren’s phrase “lean toward.”  (Remember, Mr. Webster used the same term.)  To quote my neighbor, Larry, in trying to be “as objective as possible,” the Conservative/Liberal Bias definition may seem to imply that if I champion fairness and kindness, I discount, purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority OR that if I focus my attention on purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, I’m unfair and unkind!  Remember, McLaren is about building bridges, not walls!   He clarifies this point in Chapter 24 on Conservative/Liberal Bias, when he discusses how Jesus might have wrestled with this issue:  “Jesus neither absolutized nor ignored the four primarily conservative moral values, but instead, he included them and integrated them with the values of fairness and kindness, or justice and compassion … all in service of love.” 

            It’s BOTH/AND – not EITHER/OR!  Again, it’s “lean toward.”  It’s a matter of “where do you put the accent?” 

My Conservative/Liberal Bias

I spend a lot more time viewing CNN and MSNBC than I do watching Fox News or the 700 Club.  I subscribe to Christian Century and Sojourners.  I do not subscribe to Christianity Today or Christian Living.  I realize that puts me at odds with a number of my sisters and brothers in the evangelical Christian community as well as those in the Republican Party.  It also means that many of them have access to “opinions” and “perspectives” that I do not.  If, bravely and vulnerably, we risk entering into a conversation with one another to try to build a bridge of understanding, I won’t say neither of us is “playing with a full deck,” but we definitely are not “playing with the same deck.”

Invitation to Lean Forward

            If you’re willing and able to spend the time, would you please take one more look at those above Biases (Consciousness; Comfort or Complacency; Conservative/Liberal; and Confidence Bias) and then ask yourself: “Does that sound like me?”  The next step is even harder.  In quest of peace and understanding, would you be willing to share what you learned with someone you know who may not view the world quite the same way that you do?

            If not, maybe one of McLaren’s “final four” Biases might be easier to address.  Could we make a date to sit down together again in Blind Biases 3?  Harry

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[1] Webster’s New World College Dictionary: Third Edition; Macmillan USA, 1997.

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