Of Bubbles and Bias

At dinner last night, my high school aged son brought up a discussion on bias from earlier in the day. His class had to put different media outlets on the left or the right based on their perceptions. Given our chosen geographic location the results weren’t surprising – everything but Fox News went on the left.

As soon as he told us that, I know he regretted it. Here comes a life lesson.

When are we going to stop with these over-simplified divisions between us and them? The only ones who gain from this kind of sorting are people who want to divide us. As Trevor Noah, a man who grew up illegal in Apartheid South Africa by virtue of his mixed race parents so eloquently wrote recently, divided people are easier to rule.

I told my son that most people consider bias to be anything with which they disagree.

The problem with categorizing something or someone as left or right is that it’s completely relative to where you stand. I think we tend to believe that wherever we stand is dead center so we speak with a false sense of authority about other people’s biases.

Likewise, since the election there has been much talk of people living in bubbles. Usually it’s a gloating comment, pitting people who live in “the liberal bubble” against “real America.” Again, this sort of comment shows an utter lack of awareness about one’s own bias.

In the interest of peacefully moving forward, let’s clear one thing up.

We all live in bubbles.

It’s just the nature of things.

Time is a finite resource; we choose how to spend it. We create our own lives and by definition that means we reject alternatives. For example, I’m the mother of two children. Had I chosen not to have children, my life would look very different now. My experiences, my wisdom, my expertise, my blind spots, my weaknesses – they would not be the same as they are today. I have routines, friends, family, a preferred Kroger store, etc. This is my bubble.

And that’s fine.

The trouble starts when we refuse to recognize that the paths we choose narrow our vision. Trouble becomes fully manifest when we confuse our comfortable, functional bubble life with The One True Way.

When you believe that your life, your beliefs, your ideas represent some sort of Center Ground and The Best Place To Be, it’s time for some soul-searching.

I don’t believe we invented this problem, but the ease with which we can immerse ourselves only in information that agrees with our point of view has certainly accelerated with the internet.

Bubbles and biases can seem like the universe if we only see what concurs with our beliefs.

How do we break out?

It’s simple. We just have to be aware.

Ok, simple words but maybe not so simple to practice.

I’m far from perfect but I have a good start. A question I always return to when I think I have it all figured out: What am I missing?

Answering that question is a great place to begin.