Can You See It?

Never underestimate how powerful selective perception can be.

I was not surprised at all to hear and read that the day after the first Presidential debate of 2020, supporters of each candidate were totally convinced that their candidate of choice just slammed his opponent. Now, how can that be? That thing called Congeniality Bias is obviously alive and well.

The working definition of that bias is basically that people refuse to accept evidence that is contrary their beliefs, and readily accept information that does agree with and support their beliefs. I have heard it described as “nearly impossible” for people to see, let alone accept, contrary information. If true, think about the implications as people get entrenched in a certain position, whether that position is a political preference, a view about a direction a project should take, or an opinion of another person. It means that people will never change their minds, because they will never recognize any kind of evidence which would challenge them to do so.

Today, we see these “competing” selective perception biases played out in a number of arenas. Are masks effective or not? Is the climate changing or not? If so, is the climate changing due to man-made causes or not? Are police villains or not? Think about the importance of each of these issues. Now think about the likelihood of making progress if each side of the issue is totally incapable of recognizing any truthful evidence which is contrary to their current points of view. The same, non-productive arguments will continue well into the future

We may not be able to change others, but we certainly can make sure that, individually, we are not contributing to the problem. So, let me invite you to take a moment and become more self-aware of issues surrounding you. Do you see evidence of congeniality bias in the world around you? Do you believe that selective perception does in fact occur? Is it possible that you have your own selective biases?

I hope you answered yes to those questions. The first step is to recognize that you  may in fact have biases, which do cloak what you see.

That said, let me pose another question for you. Can you cite any examples where a belief you had about something has in fact changed, or at least thawed a bit? Many years ago, I was kind of ambivalent about the “real need” to go out of my way to recycle cans and bottles. If there was a recycle container, I would use it. Otherwise, those items went into the trash. I did not believe it was all that important. Then one day, I drove by the landfill in my city – and saw how massive it already was. It changed the way I thought – and behaved. The message finally got through. Today, I am by no means an obsessed zealot about “saving the world,” but I do pay much closer attention to recycling, especially my usage of one time plastic water bottles.

Solutions to the problems we now face require courageous thinking. We have to be able to see the truth, even if it bumps up against our long-held beliefs. The real leaders are those who can be influenced by facts, and then be willing to admit the need for change. Personally, I am almost amazed when new evidence, which I have never allowed myself to see before, comes to light. It is often, not comfortable to acknowledge or accept, but deep down, I know that I must.

So I encourage you to be curious and continue to understand the truth about both sides of important issues. And remember, just because there are new facts, does not mean you have to change your point of view about something. What is does mean is that you will have more knowledge and will hopefully be better equipped to formulate judgments that are even more sound.

Stay well “learn on.”


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