Just when I think I’m solid, really solid on eating eggs without uneasy qualms about my cardiovascular peril, my eyes chance upon a headline that hardens my heart. There is a subtle implication here I do not like. Quick as a flash I shut that article down and move on as soon as my brain gets the idea that the tide is turning again on eggs. This is just too dangerous now that I’ve built my world around that new thing happening in salads and grain bowls where you top them with a poached egg and let the runny yolk become part of the dressing. There is no other ingredient to swap in that will behave like a runny egg with that satisfyingly rubbery shell and a rich, saucy center.
I notice the same shut down happening when someone suggests doing something a different way or an article contradicts my understanding of the universe. Unfortunately for the universe, I’m not alone in the faulty wiring which shuts down anything that doesn’t reinforce the reality I am operating on and am therefore fully committed to. The simple logic tree in the tweet below captures this unconscious human bias for agreeing with things that confirm our experiences, views or preferences and disagreeing with things that challenge them. In fact, we actively scan the world for evidence every day that reinforces our rightness, carelessly ignoring anything that suggests otherwise.
But we have to have compassion for our unconscious selves. Think about it. There we are building a foundation on eggs and then look what happens! (Truth be told, I was having a hard time training myself to love runny eggs as much as I loved the idea of being a person who topped grain bowls with poached eggs, but the point is, there are people out there whose egg world will be blown apart by this latest study. And it could have been mine.)
The bottom line is we’re biased. It’s our nature to be biased as a mechanism to protect the integrity of what we believe, what we rely on, what we want, and what and who we’re familiar and comfortable with. The scary thing is it comes so naturally to us we don’t even know we’re biased! Just last weekend our grandchildren were in town. On Monday morning Gary came downstairs and said he had a sore throat.
“Those kids…” was what he said next.
“Hmmm,” I said. “I hadn’t heard anything about them being sick.”
I checked and found out they weren’t and told Gary but he looked like he didn’t really believe it. The kids-spreading-their-kiddy-germs bias is just too firmly established in his mind.
I have my own. Being a long-time meditator, I really love reading articles about how meditating bulks up certain parts of our brains we’d want bulky, so when I come across an article suggesting this finding has been over-sold I barely skim it, dismissing that article mindlessly.
It’s a problem. Anyone can see that turning a blind eye to good ideas or a cold heart to people unlike us isn’t going to improve our experience or the world. And since it’s unconscious – going on in there under the surface just like our beating heart — our only hope is to use our big, brand-new pre-frontal cortexes to outsmart our dusty old limbic brains. The only thing to do is know this is going on and actively scour our reactions, opinions and beliefs for evidence of our old limbic brain doing its thing.
I’m sure overcoming unconscious bias will be really hard once I actually remember to do it. The only thing I can think of to help is to make a mantra of a question I should always be asking and stick that question where I will see it everyday. I’m going to try.