Bias for Better or Worse

St. Paul was biased and knew it.

Truth is objective, but we all see it from our own unique perspective. In many political, social and religious conversations, the word “bias” is tossed around like a hand grenade, blowing up any chance of a friendly parting of the ways, let alone a meeting of the minds.

Saying someone is biased has become like saying someone is wrong. The implied meaning is, “You’re biased, so you’re wrong. I’m not biased, so I’m right.” Saying someone is just biased adds further insult to injury by implying stupidity as well as error. None of this is conducive to earnest debate and intellectual progress.

The fact is, we are all biased. It’s humanly impossible to consider all of the facts that play into any given issue. Certain issues involve facts that go beyond our comprehension (such as the question of whether God exists). And we cannot help but be influenced by our life experience, our education, our emotional state, and perhaps motives that go beyond a simple quest for truth. I think this is what Paul was getting at when he wrote:

“Our knowledge, our prophecy, are only glimpses of the truth; and these glimpses will be swept away when the time of fulfilment comes. (Just so, when I was a child, I talked like a child, I had the intelligence, the thoughts of a child; since I became a man, I have outgrown childish ways.)  At present, we are looking at a confused reflection in a mirror; then, we shall see face to face; now, I have only glimpses of knowledge; then, I shall recognize God as he has recognized me.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12)

I look forward to the day when I can see truth rather than a dark reflection, if that day ever comes to me, but in the meantime I must muddle through with my bias.

It’s What You Do with Your Bias that Counts

The first step in grappling with bias is to accept the fact that you have it. This is a hard step for many people to take, not only when it comes to their core beliefs, but for any issue at all. I’m not a psychologist, but I have noticed that some people have an overwhelming need to be right.

Whatever the cause of bias denial, if you surround yourself with like-minded people, you may find it psychologically comforting, but you will be hard pressed to make the mirror Paul spoke of any clearer.

Other things to consider about bias:

  1. Since bias is an integral part of us, it’s just like the rest of us — a mixture of good and bad.
  2. It’s up to us to make our mix of bias as good as possible, to get rid of our bad biases and cultivate our good biases.
  3. Learning which of our biases are good and which are bad requires discussion, study, introspection and the willingness to see things from other point of view.
  4. Cultivating the ability to see things from the other person’s point of view is helpful in discovering their biases — and our own.
  5. Being able to see and to respect another person’s bias does not mean you have to agree with that bias.
  6. People can have opposing biases and still be friends and work together toward common goals.

(Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons)

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