Today the alarming turmoil of 2020 and confirmation bias.
We have all shared the turmoil and crisis of 2020. This year exposed a lot of old wounds. As we move to the new normal, these wounds continue to fester. The turmoil of 2020 picked away at old scabs and it will take a lot more than a vaccine to fix it.
Why Do We Choose Turmoil?
This all prompts me to question why don’t we learn from our mistakes? Why do we keep ignoring threats only to blunder right into chaos and turmoil, yet again? While we are at it … why do intelligent folks buy into wing-nut
theories? Why do they rave about politicians that act in antisocial ways? Why is science under attack? Finally, why do we love to hate experts?
Turmoil and Confirmation Bias
I’ve discovered, the answer to these questions is confirmation bias. We filter out facts that don’t support and embrace facts that do support what we already believe. This can take different forms, the most benign being, ignoring or forgetting information that contradicts our point of view. But in the worst case, it can erupt into anger and even violence.
This is common across the entire political spectrum. We all do it. It is not a problem of the left or right. It’s the way we are wired.
In 2020 we have seen some staggering examples, like folks refusing to follow simple precautions against COVID-19. Or refusing to accept the weight of evidence about climate change. Finally, folks believing we don’t have race issues, it’s all just a bunch of troublemakers. Yet, we can prove all these things with hard facts, if we are open to listening and understanding. But then, confirmation bias makes that very difficult.
Turmoil - An Experiment
In one experiment, scientists at the University College London divided folks into two groups; one that believed in climate change and one that didn’t. When presented with data that shows the climate is changing, the non-believers didn’t change their mind,
but the believers felt that things were even worse than they had previously thought. Rather than bringing the sides together, the data drove them apart.
Seeking Common Values to Manage Turmoil
So how, you may ask, are we supposed to make any progress? It all comes down to shared values.
With COVID-19, let’s not argue about statistics. People are sick and simple measures can make a difference. COVID is scary, so we’d prefer not to believe in it, but we all care about our loved ones. There, we can find common ground.
I believe we can also find common values on these other, seemingly unmanageable problems. People care about their loved ones. They want a good life. Change is scary. We can start by exploring our common fears and values and work from there.
We Can Fix the Turmoil
You know, most folks who don’t believe in climate change, COVID-19, or race problems aren’t bad. They are just scared and they don’t want to accept change. So they filter out the data that scares them or suggests they have to change their way of life. We are wired that way.
But all is not lost. We have had many successful leaders over the years. While they may not have been universally popular, they were effective. Step by step, things got a bit better. They did that by focussing on values; those things that unite us. By starting there, they made progress.
So, it’s possible, but we need to step back from the fray, evaluate our common values and not fret so much about who is right and who is wrong.
It’s simple. That’s all we need to know. But it is also one of the biggest challenges we will ever face. In my years as a karate instructor, I learned the things that are easy to say are the hardest to do. Though, I believe it is worth the effort.