Are you familiar with the concept of CONFIRMATION BIAS? It is a new term to me, but one that has popped open a perception I had never considered into our individual and collective subconscious behavior. I first heard the term from a political pundit on television, during a discussion about fake news. Here is the definition from Wikipedia:
Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.
This is a REAL phenomenon, and not one that is just happening to “other people.” We are each extremely vulnerable to confirmation bias, especially given the plethora of information, both truthful and not, inflammatory and not, that is instantaneously available and pre-sorted via our search-engine “likes” and preferences. Check your Facebook feed as a way to test your susceptibility. How much have you inadvertently filtered your feed’s algorithm so that the bulk of what you see is stuff with which you already agree? And if there are posts that slip through (let’s say there are some antagonistic political posts there because you haven’t yet unfollowed dear, old, misguided Aunt Betsy)…do you read them? If you do read them, (what is dear, old, misguided Aunt Betsy up to now?) are you already in oppositional stance, with blood pressure rising, before you’ve digested the first paragraph?
Fake news (and our willingness to buy into it and/or share it because it got our dander up and we want to pass that along) is a blatant example of confirmation bias that is pushing the “us and them” divide in America to its breaking point. And maybe that is a good thing. We are being made aware, and awareness….mindfulness…is ALWAYS a good thing, right?
I lead several spiritual writing groups each year called WRITING THROUGH THE HEART, in which we delicately dissect and then express in writing what is going on deep inside of us. During the election cycle, often what we discussed was the painful place in which we found ourselves as a country and in the world. The “us and them” divide has never felt so cavernous and impossible to bridge. Not only do we feel a million miles apart in our opinions about how things are and how things should be, we are hair-triggered emotionally to become volatile the minute the subject comes up. Every single day our buttons are pushed so often that we don’t even realize the buttons are getting stuck in hot mode.
But when the heart is open and vulnerable, we are able to see that we need a THIRD WAY. This is the phrase that arose in one of our groups. A THIRD WAY is the non-dualistic, us-and-them-paradigm-busting position in which a brand new, creative point of view can be born; one that doesn’t belittle or negate “the other,” nor lock into the egoic position that “our way is the right way.” Both sides must disarm, drop our positions, and start over. No winners. No losers. It is an extremely vulnerable place, but one in which I believe miracles can occur.
Letting love lead – letting love supercede opinion – (from my admitted cognitive bias) is the guide-map to this Third Way. If we truly love Aunt Betsy, for example, then we must face and dismantle our confirmation bias that she is misguided, and really hear her, really respect her. This will take time, lots of it, because both Aunt Betsy and ourselves will inevitably fumble about, trying to get to the bottom of our hearts – out from under our slippery, subconscious biases, and free from our righteous, egoic positions.
Letting love lead can feel impossible and no doubt Pollyannaish (I’ve certainly been accused of this more than once)…and maybe it is. Maybe it is the Impossible Dream. All I know is I want to participate in more of this kind of discourse. I am done with the face-offs of pundits in angry debate, determined to “win” at any cost. I don’t believe any of them anymore, even the ones with which I “agree.” Don’t we need to drop our righteousness altogether? Our pride is not just going before our fall, it is leading us straight to it.
I want a new way, a Third Way.