Living with Bias

By Chris Chittenden

"Some folk are wise, and some are otherwise.”

… Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) Scottish poet

I don't know about you, but I am fascinated by the presidential race in the U.S.A., or more specifically by the Republican side of the race. This may seem strange as I certainly do not share their value set and find their view of the world somewhat simplistic and myopic.

However, what I find fascinating is the fervour with which their views are held and how those involved in electing a candidate for president do not seem to challenge the factual nature of the various claims and just go along for the ride. Certainly the United States is not alone in this as politics in most first world democracies seems to be becoming more and more strident. After all, why let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Ultimately, the approach being put forward by politicians about how to deal with the challenges facing the world today seems to be to create a sense of crisis and then spout simplistic solutions to those crises. In doing so, they play to the bias of their audience. This may work from a political perspective but it does little to resolve the complex issues we face in the world today.

You may have heard of the term 'cognitive bias'. To quote Wikipedia:

"A cognitive bias refers to a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion."

A cognitive bias represents an ungrounded assessment, which is an opinion not well supported by facts. This is part of the challenge of living in the social media noise of the modern world. There are so many people loudly expressing their opinions as though they were facts, that we can be swamped and lose sight of what is true and what is simply opinion.

This inability to distinguish between facts and opinions creates a sort of blindness that undermines our ability to make good choices in life. Our opinions (assessments) point us into the future and if they are founded on shaky ground then they are not serving us well. Our assessments are best created when they are rooted in fact.

This is not to say that what is true is obvious. It is not. However, if we wish to make better choices in life, it would serve us well to be aware of our bias and to explore the facts in a more robust manner. Do not do what so many people do and just look for the facts that support an existing opinion. That may make us feel justified in holding our opinion but that does not make our opinions any more useful.

We live a better life when we make better choices. I invite you to reflect on your biases and see whether you may be better served by grounding your opinions more effectively.

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© 2016 Chris Chittenden