Dictionary.com defines bias as:
I’ve started a new blog post about a half dozen times in the past two months. I’ve been struggling with deciding what to write about since the election; it’s been one of the main sources of conversation for so many that I felt like I had to jump in. But I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say. I’ve finally decided to talk about bias because I think it’s what caused the election to turn out as it did. I also think it tends to drive most of what we think and do. I’m concerned that if we, as a society, don’t get a handle on us, it may lead to our ultimate destruction.
During conversations with some of my friends over the past few weeks, I’ve been attempting to understand how people that I would normally describe as intelligent are losing their minds, spewing “news stories” that are anything but, and trashing the constitutional tenets that guide our republic. All in an effort to get me to agree that their selection for President (Trump) was the correct one. Or to get me to agree that Clinton was the correct choice and the election had been stolen from her.
The act of being in these conversations has led me to begin forming opinions about personal bias. (Forgive me if this covers ground you already know, yourself. I’m just becoming aware of these things. At least this election accomplished something!)
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that he thought that President Obama had done more to increase racism in this country than any individual in history. His statement was, “Obama said that he doesn’t believe that police are doing their jobs, that they’re targeting black men, and that he doesn’t support their behavior.”
We did a quick google search on our phones (my bride calls smart phones “pocket BS detectors”) and were unable to come up with a quote that was anywhere close to what my friend had just said. Most quotes were around how difficult the job of a police officer is and we can’t undermine that by painting them all with a broad brush.
The fact that we couldn’t find the quote my friend claimed to have heard was disturbing to him. I pointed out that it was possible that the liberal media had removed the story in order to keep Obama’s legacy intact. When he vehemently agreed, I pointed out that I’d been kidding. (Hmmmm. Bias.)
I suggested something else.
“Let’s pretend, for a moment, that instead of Obama saying that, it was George W. Bush when he was president. So, President Bush at a press conference says, ‘I believe that there is a group of police officers who are not doing their jobs, that are targeting black males and I want this to stop because I don’t support that kind of behavior.’ How does that change it for you?”
My friend couldn’t really come up with an answer.
So I said, “Wouldn’t you think that President Bush was trying to ensure that police were doing their jobs properly?” He replied in the affirmative.
“Would you say that he was reaching out to the black community in an effort to get them to see that he was trying to help them?” Again, he agreed with that.
“So when a white president says it, he’s doing the right thing. But when a black president says it, he’s what? Getting uppity? Not knowing his place? Rabble rousing?”
My friend, who I truly don’t believe is a racist, couldn’t answer the question.
I suggest that his “personal bias” made him look at the words, hear the words, even understand the words, differently. Perhaps even make up new words to match his bias.
I’m a member of a Unitarian Universalist church. I consider myself to be agnostic only because I can’t imagine an actual god but I also can’t imagine there not being a higher power. In other words, I need some proof. The closest thing I can align to is Buddhism and, quite frankly, I describe myself as a “flailing Buddhist” as I’m not very good at living in the moment or at accepting things.
My church describes itself as a liberal church and welcomes all who choose to worship with us. UUism doesn’t have a dogma but, instead, draws on many different faiths and teachings for inspiration. We are a welcoming congregation, meaning that we want all who come to join us to feel welcome.
In the fifteen or so years that I’ve been a member, we’ve done all sort of things that could be considered welcoming. At one point, we had a group of Amadiyah Muslims meeting in our church building before they were able to build their own mosque. This offshoot of Islam is among the most peaceful and focus their entire worth on love. The members that I met were incredibly kind and compassionate. (At the same time, women in their group were not given a seat in leadership; they were subservient to the men at all times. Interesting bias.)
A couple of years ago, we had a person come to our church for a period of time. Several people reached out to learn more about him and his family. They began to take an active role in the church and then, one day, they stopped coming. Why? Turned out that he was a Republican and was taken aback with so much anti-GOP talk that he heard among the members and from the pulpit.
I guess, to some degree, we are welcoming but especially to those who think as we do. Once again, bias comes into play.
Conservative vs Liberal
This one plays out every day, on every channel that broadcasts news stories (or what passes for news) by anyone who watches. Same with newspapers, news magazines, and even news websites.
The New York Times is a very old newspaper that prides itself on reporting the news as accurately and fairly as it can. It has won many awards for doing just that, including multiple Pulitzer prizes.
Here’s a test for you. What’s your opinion of the New York Times? Before you continue reading, take a moment and decide your answer. I’ll wait.
Okay, you may continue.
Some people think that the NYT is a “liberal rag” and not worth the paper it’s printed on. Others think it’s the last bastion of good reporting in the nation. Still others, think it’s a puppet of the right wingers.
How could all of those opinions differ so widely? Bias, pure and simple. (Your answer above is, of course, based on your personal bias.)
(Side note: The Richmond Times-Dispatch, my local newspaper, has a long history of being conservative, having endorsed the GOP candidate almost exclusively for decades. When they endorsed Gary Johnson this past October, a large number of people lost their minds. The letters to the editors almost never fail to elicit a chuckle from me. They’re almost better than the comics! Bias examples abound just about daily.)
Here’s the deal. I remember a time when most of us were taught to listen politely to what someone else had to say about a topic. I remember it as a time that was more thoughtful, respectful, and when we were able to accomplish more. (Remember when Kennedy challenged America to go to the moon? It took 9 years. Think that could happen today? Not a chance. Too many people arguing about it.)
Want to think more clearly about things and help break the cycle? Do this.
Take the time to consider the other person’s point of view, even if it directly opposes what you believe. (The operative word is consider here. Don’t discard what they say out of hand. Just consider it. What if they were right? What if you were wrong? What if both of you were wrong?)
If asked, give your own opinion, politely, about the same topic. Provide the other person with your reasons for the opinion. (Bear in mind, facts should have more value than opinions or feelings.) Ask the other person to consider your point of view, too.
Above all else, listen to understand don’t listen to reply! Life isn’t a debate. We’re all in this together and, in the final analysis, we all want what’s best for the country, our lives, our families, and ourselves.
In the end, if your opinions haven’t changed, agree to disagree and thank the other person for sharing their thoughts with you. Both parties will be changed by this, whether or not they believe that.
I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m not sure I even have half of the questions! I only know that we, as a society, are at a very strange place in our journey. We have the capability to end it ourselves and, frankly, I’m worried that’s going to happen if we don’t change the ways we interact.
We also have the wherewithal to be better than we are, as a country, and as a world. I intend to do my share.
I hope you intend to do yours.