Search This Blog

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Biased about biases


One time, I was talking to my daughter one time about the concept of 'bad words'.  I said certain words are always inappropriate like curse words (and sort of implied an example).  I said other words, are somewhat inappropriate, but not curse words such as stupid.  I then said some words on the other hand, it really depends.  I used the example of fat.  If call or refer to a person as fat, that is a bad or rude word.  If you are using fat (as in wide) to describe a street or space, then it is just a description.  Anyway, this is the second in set of blogs regarding motivations and biases.  The first entry was Motivated to write thoughts on motivations.

The terms bias and discrimination in and of themselves are not bad words.  When we think of them, we tend to attach to them a negative connotation or context.  But, let's take each word separate.  You can have a bias in favor of vanilla or chocolate ice cream without being considered a jerk or you can have a bias towards your child and be considered reasonable in many cases.  Similarly, if you discriminatory tastes that can mean you have the ability to tell and appreciate the difference between two wines.  Also, if you are showing discrimination, you might be talking about being able to discern the difference between right and wrong.

Anyway, I have thought that sometimes people are trying so hard not to appear biased or discriminatory that it gets to a point of ridiculousness.  Meaning their actions almost seem based on the notion that they are trying to convince themselves that they aren't--discriminatory--or don't have what they actually have--biases.  I think this feed what we call political correctness.  Most people want to appear reasonable and fair-minded and in most cases people--even those of different of different views--are, but that doesn't mean ignoring reality about ourselves.

--

Let's look at bias or discrimination and face certain realities
  • We tend to favor our subgroups
    • Family
    • Friends or clique
    • Teams or those who have something in common with.
    • City, state or national group
    • Ethnic, cultural, or religious.
  • In God's eyes we are all considered equal, but that doesn't mean that all groups or subgroups are the same.
    • Until people have shown otherwise, I have always felt they should be respected regardless of their differences, provided the respect is reciprocated.  To wit, I went to Meramac Caverns with my stepson's cub scout troop and ran into a guy from Kenya. We got to striking up a conversation and though in many ways we were very different, we seemed to have a genuine respect for each other and could have talked all day.
    • If a subgroup does not enforce norms effectively, its foolhardy to ignore that.
  • Groups are still composed of people and therefore can have problems.  Sometimes problems are specific to a group and sometimes problems cross groups.
    • For example, certain ethnics groups show higher incidence of health issues compared to others.
    • The drawbacks to children being raised in a one parent household is something that is a problem across many groups.
  • When we are unfamiliar with a group or just are lazy, it is much easier to assign characteristics to the group or 'stereotype' them. 
    • Individuals within the group may not necessarily fit the characteristics (properly or improperly) assigned to the larger group.
      • There may be a higher rate of crime in a certain communities, but that doesn't mean that its okay to assume someone from the community is probably a criminal.
      • Certain communities may be known for placing a stronger emphasis on education, but that doesn't mean you should assume that a member of that community inherently will be more studious than others who are not from that community.
    • Certain elements of a stereotype may have some truth to them, but that doesn't make the whole stereotype valid. 
      • For example, just because a group, community or regions tends to have higher rates of poverty doesn't automatically mean that higher rates of crime have to follow.
  • Biases can protect us, but they can also hinder us.  
    • For example if an area is considered to be dangerous walking alone in after dark, we'd be foolish to walk alone there after dark (and our bias would serve to protect).  
    • On the other hand, if we hear a city like Chicago is unsafe when in reality only certain parts of it are unsafe, we might decide to avoid vacationing there and therefore might miss out on the rich experiences of Chicago.  We'd miss out on it because we let our bias dictate our behavior.
--

Unfortunately, our country has been governed by large swings in direction.  When we error in a certain direction, it is not uncommon for us to try to correct the error by going too much in another or the other direction.  Another way of saying it is that often we think in terms of black and white (no pun intended), when we should think in shades of grey.  Let's face it, in this country, racial and other discrimination have been an issue.  I don't believe the solution is to change the objects of discrimination, but instead to change the culture where discrimination. That being said, sometimes discrimination IS necessary.  For example, when a crime is committed and witnessed to be done by a young person, you typical don't look among groups of older people to find the suspect.  In other words, you discriminate in your search.


I guess my takeaways are this:
  • We all have biases, whether we recognize it or not.  It is best to own them so that we can determine if they are something that really need to work on them or if they are reasonable.
  • Biases are not always a bad thing per se, but it is to what it is applied to that can make it unacceptable or undesirable. 
  • Biases can from time to time protect us. but they can hinder us as well.
  • We have to recognize that in God's sees us as equals, but that doesn't mean we are the same.

Hopefully, this blog post makes sense to people and/or at least gets people thinking.  But, those are some of my biases about biases.

Cheers,
Rich