Biased? Who me?

By Scott Hughes

figure reaching for balloons over a canyon

sangoiri / 123RF Stock Photo

Can we acknowledge we are not as certain or as knowledgeable as we pretend to be? Reading Thinking, Fast and Slow late last year has influenced the way I’ve listened to the political rhetoric during this campaign season and the theological talk during the United Methodist conference period (General, jurisdictional, and annual). In a key passage of the book, author Daniel Kahneman writes,

“The amount of evidence and its quality do not count for much, because poor evidence can make a very good story. For some of our most important beliefs we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold these beliefs. Considering how little we know, the confidence we have in our beliefs is preposterous - and it is also essential” (209).

It is essential because without that confidence we’d have a hard time making sense of the events around us.

What has been confirmed for me as I have listened to the political and theological talk is this: We believe what we want to believe. If we want to hold on to the narrative of inclusion (be that immigration or human sexuality), we’ll find evidence to support that and a crowd to confirm it. And the same is true of whatever other belief is dear to us. Facts play a much smaller role for why we believe something than we’d like to admit.

Sadly, this our biases and our desire to believe what we want to be true is part of the human condition. It is what is, has been, and will be for the foreseeable future. The apostle Paul said it this way, “for now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In fact, the “blind-spot bias” is a bias wherein we refuse to acknowledge our own biases! (Reminds me of the “log in your eye” syndrome from Matthew 7:3-4.)

I’ve put together the Courageous Conversations resources to help local churches engage in exercises aimed at promoting learning through deep listening and dialogue. Learning can take place only when people feel safe to offer their opinions, especially when they know others may disagree with them.

I don’t harbor the delusion that participating in Courageous Conversations will be the balm to what ails United Methodism. Daniel Kahneman’s and& Scripture’s brutally honest portrayal of the human condition rubs off my tendency toward naiveté.

While this recognition could leave me hopeless, I know that our hope does not lie solely in our abilities to listen or in our willingness to engage in difficult conversations. Even if we are willing to do the hard work of learning (questioning and revising our assumptions), I no longer presume that unity –much less uniformity – can be achieved by our efforts alone. Our hope relies on our willingness to become more aware of our biases and more than that to discern God’s guidance.

As United Methodist Wesleyans, we believe our discipleship calls us toward Christian perfection. To help that journey along, I’m going to present a series of blogs exploring the biases that keep us from learning and that keep us clinging to our self-limiting perspectives (Hebrews 12:1-2a). In recognizing such biases and choosing to lay them aside, we can run our race better and see Jesus more clearly.

Reflection Question

Can you think of any other biblical stories that demonstrate our “blindness” or biased nature?

Reflection Exercises

In her excellent book Disunity in Christ, Christena Cleveland advises, “Once I’ve named the specific biases that I hold, I can be on the lookout for them as I go about my day…I’ve found that it’s helpful for me to share my list of biases with close friends so that they can speak up if they find me perceiving others inaccurately” (62).

As you name your various biases, share your findings with a friend or group of friends.

Learn more about Courageous Conversations »