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Sunday, August 23, 2015

How To Deal With Your Biases

Confession time: I am biased.

Bias is only human. It gets shaped by personal experiences, environments and surroundings, other people and personal interests. And there's no way to get bias entirely out of my system.

What I do -- and you can do as well -- is learn how to admit your biases and deal with them the best you can. This isn't an easy task, but with time, you can overcome at least some of your biases and keep others under control when you engage in discussion.

I'll stick with myself. I'm biased in favor of the Denver Broncos. I learned to deal with, and overcome it to a degree, by reading about what goes into making good personnel decisions, what character issues really impact a team, and what the real effect is of a pro sports team on a local economy. In doing so, I learned that the Broncos don't always make the right personnel decisions, which Bronco players could truly be forgiven for their mistakes and which ones needed to depart, and that it wasn't a wise decision to support any public funding for a pro sports stadium -- even the one that led to a new stadium for the Broncos about 15 years ago. These things remind me that the Broncos are not infallible.

I'm biased against Donald Trump and the way he runs his Presidential campaign. I won't ever get that bias out entirely, but I've learned to control it by recognizing a few things. First, by recognizing that Trump sometimes raises valid points, because every Presidential candidate has them. Second, by recognizing that his popularity has a lot to do with voter frustration over governments that seem uninterested in making tough decisions about policy and keep going back to methods that aren't working. Third, by recognizing we have weak candidates in both parties, ranging from a Democratic field that seems resigned to Hillary Clinton winning the nomination (Bernie Sanders being the exception) to a Republican field that seems only interested in repeating the talking points tossed around when George W. Bush was in office. Recognizing these things makes me understand why some voters are enthusiastic about Trump.

If you want to recognize and deal with your biases, the first step to take is to admit that you have them and don't add any qualifiers to that admission. In other words, stick with the statement "I am biased" and don't follow it with any other. Remember, your task is to admit to your biases, not that anyone else has them.

From there, these are the things you can do to help you confront your biases, get past a few of them and keep others under control.

1. Remember that you are not the only with personal experiences or interests. Everyone has experienced different situations in life and interests vary among people. Relating your own experiences and interests is fine, but make sure you listen to those of other people and don't disregard them because they don't line up with yours.

2. Don't get your information from just sources that tell you what you want to hear. It's easy to pass around Facebook memes and articles that start a paragraph with "this will shock you" or other similar phrases. If you are a liberal, you need to read some conservative writings, and not just so you can make fun of them. The same applies if you are conservative, libertarian, or any other political label you identify with. Your job is to get informed as much as you can, not to sit in an echo chamber.

3. Seek out those who write thought-provoking pieces or engage in thought-provoking conversations. It's easy to flock to the orator who goes on endless rants about how enraged you need to get or the bloggers who ramble in their writings about "see, this proves this doesn't work!" But the ones that are easy to flock to are the ones that will prevent you from seeing your own biases.

4. Don't go complaining about how somebody else is biased, no matter how true it may be. The instant you do that is the instant you will be unable to confront your biases. Remember, this is about YOU, not about somebody else.

5. Remember that dealing with bias is not the same thing as changing your mind or opinion. You don't have to change every opinion you have. All you need to do is be open to dialogue and additional information, so you can re-evaluate your opinions and determine if you still have a valid point or if you may want to reconsider. If you aren't open to more information, you're not willing to confront your biases.

None of these things are easy to do, but remember that recognizing and confronting your biases are not supposed to be easy, but difficult. They are like most things in life -- there are no easy answers, and even for the things we know to be right or wrong, there are no easy solutions to ensure right and wrong are addressed. Don't pretend otherwise.

I won't ever get rid of every bias I have and some will surface in my writings. However, I strive to keep an open mind and that helps me deal with those biases. If you want to deal with yours, remember that an open mind is a good place to start.

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