Truth verses Pride

Psychologists have long known that people’s beliefs are ruled by Confirmation Bias.  Confirmation Bias is a psychological phenomenon in which we are bias toward our own beliefs.  For example, a Dallas Cowboys fan will be less likely to agree with the referee on a call against the Cowboys than a fan of the opposing team.  Both fans suffer from Confirmation Bias.  This means we require large amounts of evidence to change our mind but little to believe something that reinforces what we already believe.  For example, if an archeologist discovers something that reinforces that Jesus died and rose back to life, a Christian will quickly accept it as true while someone of a different religion will require large amounts of evidence before conceding it is true – in most cases no amount of evidence will convince them.  This is known as Conformation Bias.

          Jonathan Haidt took this concept one level deeper.  Haidt is a social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business.  He asked another question.  What determines these beliefs that come before Confirmation Bias?  That is, why is the Dallas Cowboys fan a fan of the Dallas Cowboys?  Well, that example may be easy to answer.  Historically, psychologists have believed our beliefs are held either for emotional reasons or logical reasons. Some believe that logic must rule emotions.  Others believe the two rule together with each having an equal importance.  Still others believe one must follow their heart by letting emotions rule.  After several scientific studies, Haidt determined there is a third cause of beliefs which is more powerful than either logic or emotion.  That is intuition.

          When confronted with a foul-smelling soup, many will refuse to try it.  A chef may tell the person what the ingredients are and even show him a video of the preparation.  However, there is little chance of convincing one to change their mind when the “gut feeling” has told them no.  This holds true with ethics, politics, morality, fashion, sports and just about everything humans form an opinion on.  When we are told something and our gut feeling tells us it isn’t right, our reasoning become post hoc.  That means, the logic we use to reject it is after our gut feeling, or intuition, has told us something is wrong.  It takes an incredible amount of evidence for us to dismiss our intuition and agree that our initial reaction was not correct. So before we even feel emotion or start to logically consider the concept, Confirmation Bias is already pushing us in one direction.

          Haidt’s study went further to discover that certain words can invoke a feeling of disgust.  That is, when someone is presenting a concept to us, we may reject the concept based on words used to explain it rather than any real issues with the concept itself.  This often plays out in political and religious discussions.  For example, someone may use the term “pro-choice” in a political discussion and something happens in the minds of conservatives that hear the term.  Haidt shows how it is like smelling a foul odor.  Their mind rejects the message entirely because of a term used by the speaker is objectionable.  This is also common in religious discussions when someone mentions the word “sin”.  The preacher has the people’s attention if he talks about love, charity, and compassion but one mention of the word sin and their minds reject the message entirely. Their decision to reject the message is not based on logic, nor emotion but rather intuition.

  

        Our minds seem to be influenced by Confirmation Bias to such an extent that it teams up with our social instinct.  Humans are social creatures and have a need for friends and human relationships.  In his book, The Righteous Mind, Haidt reviews multiple scientific studies that show people are more concerned with their reputation than they are with truth. So, our use of logic becomes crucial to defending our reputation (not admitting we are wrong) rather than searching for truth.

          There are two types of thinking.  Those are exploratory and confirmative thinking.  Exploratory looks for truth while confirmative looks to confirm already held beliefs.  Haidt found the only time people use exploratory is when 1. They do not hold a belief or opinion about the matter, 2. They will be held accountable for their explanation, and 3. They do not know the preference held by the audience who will hear their report. If any of these three variables are not in place, Confirmation Bias will influence the thinking.

Many police investigations are examples of exploratory thinking.  The investigative officer does not have an opinion about who committed the crime.  The officer must do a report and justify their conclusions.  They will be held accountable.  They may have to testify in court about the investigation. The assumption is that the court does not have a preference or bias.  Confirmation Bias has influenced police investigations when one of the three variables is not present.  If the officer has an opinion before investigating, there is a bias.  If they are not held accountable, laziness can cause a bias.  If the district attorney wants to convict a specific individual, that can create a bias.

 

Biblical teaching seems to steer a believer away from the Confirmation Bias.  Jesus taught “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).  This seems harsh but it addresses the conflict of the social instinct.  Are we more concerned about what our family members think of us or about discovering truth?  The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2). In this verse Paul puts aside all desire for social relationships and physical survival.  His focus is the love of truth as manifested in Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ made the bold statement “I am the truth” (John 14:6).

Confirmation Bias is a psychological term that does not appear in the Bible.  Or does it? The word found in the Bible for Confirmation Bias is pride. Haidt, who is an atheist, is dumbfounded by his research which reveals the power and many manifestations of Confirmation Bias. When we label it, as the Bible does, as pride, its power should not surprise us.  “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.”  “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin.”  “The pride of your heart has deceived you”.  “‘Scoffer’ is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.”  “For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low”  (Proverbs 8:13; James 4:6; Proverbs 21:4; Obadiah 1:3; Proverbs 21:24; Isaiah 2:12)

Diminishing Confirmation Bias can be done on a societal level by forming groups of people with diverse backgrounds.  “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established.” (Proverbs 15:22) This is done for church boards, corporate committees, and legislative bodies.  Everyone has their own struggle with Confirmation Bias.  The diverse backgrounds help to prevent everyone seeing issues the same way and thus minimizes the impact of Confirmation Bias.  12-step recovery programs have 12 traditions they use to govern their groups.  The second tradition reads, “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”  The group members are taught that by submitting to the “group conscience” they are putting pride aside. Group members are taught to value opinions that differ from theirs because all opinions work together to shape what ultimately becomes the group conscience.  In US government we see the founders created three branches of government and divided the legislative branch.  This serves to diminish the influence of Confirmation Bias. Getting all three branches of government to agree on something goes a long way to diminishing self-influence especially when the individual members of those bodies have diverse backgrounds.

Is it possible to break free of pride, or the Confirmation Bias?  Perhaps not completely but the effort to do so is aided by the grade of God for the believer.  “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up” (James 4:10).  Introspection is the process of examining one’s thoughts.  One must learn to question themselves to become humble.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6). Even while reading the Bible, we are still influenced by Confirmation Bias – some more than others.  So, breaking free from it is the process of a lifetime.  We must be consistently aware of our bias and honestly (yes, really honestly) ask God to show us truth regardless the cost.

Better Than Gold

Interpersonal relationships are the most valuable asset to be found on this planet. Regarding the precepts of God’s law, the psalmist wrote, “More desired are they than gold.” (Psalms 19:10) Love characterizes God’s law as it promotes loving relationships with others and with God. The joy produced by interpersonal relationships is evident when one visits an undeveloped country and sees happiness in loving families living in deep poverty. One can also see misery found among the world’s rich. While wealth does create comfort that makes life less of a burden, it fails to bring the happiness that people long for.
 
Ellen White wrote, “You have a duty to fulfill: that of being joyful and cultivating self-denial in your feelings until it is your greatest pleasure to make those around you happy.” (Test. v4) Families are groups of people that share resources. Thus there are biological families and church families. These families provide us the greatest opportunities to develop interpersonal relationships and find joy in making others happy. Satan knows the power and ability a family has to make individuals happy so it is his intention to create disharmony in the family. The element in society that should have the greatest capacity for creating happiness, the devil uses to cause pain.
 
There are two tools to stop the devil from harming our interpersonal relationships. The first is forgiveness. When someone offends us, we should be quick to forgive. The second is to question self-denial of feelings of offense. Satan often causes family members to be offend so that he can use that offense as a means to harm the interpersonal relationship. It is often better to do as the Apostle Paul suggested in “suffering a wrong” (1 Corinthians 6:7) than damage a relationship. Offense is a tool Satan uses and we can spare ourselves much pain by “cultivating self-denial” in our feelings of offense. Learning to recognize the feeling of offense as a tool of Satan will help use protect the interpersonal relationships that are worth more than gold.

Politics & Social Media

Did you know that people get more upset discussing politics on social media than they do in person? Could that because perceptions play a bigger role due to the text format? It could also be a result of keyboard courage.

According to a recent study by Pew Research, 55% of people on social media feel worn out by political posts and only 15% enjoy seeing political posts in their newsfeed. (Anderson, 2020). Republicans are more likely to feel worn out and less likely to enjoy seeing political posts – perhaps due to their leader constantly being under attack. 

There are many people that feel worn out by political posts and yet make political posts themselves.  They post memes which support their political opinion and get upset when others disagree.  The Pew Research study found that online, political discussions reveal political differences between friends over 70% of the time.  So, when we post something political on social media, we should expect people to disagree with us rather than be of the same mind.

When we are discussing politics with someone face-to-face, we can hear the tone of their voice.  We can “hear” their body language.  When I discuss politics online, it is often with a chuckle and a slap on the knee.  However, those reading what I type may “hear” someone screaming, jeering or taunting them.  That is the disconnect often experienced by online-text communication.  In addition to that, many people find keyboard courage online.  That means they say things or take positions online that they would not in person.  This phenomenon also includes a lack of courtesy. Some people will hurl insults and call names online and would never do that if they were sitting across the table with the same person in a coffee shop.

The settings on social media allow the user to filter out what he or she sees from others and what they can see from them.  I have used the privacy settings so that only a handful of my friends can see my political posts.  I have also “unfollowed” some of my friends but have not defriended them.  Unfollowing isn’t a great option. I only use it with “friends” who are posting purely political posts.  When we unfollow someone, we don’t see any of their posts.  That means we don’t see updates on their family, non-political jokes or uplifting spiritual memes they post.  We have to specifically go to their page and see what has been going on with them.

 

One frustrated man said when he posts a political meme on social media it is like putting a yard sign in his yard – it is not open for debate.  However, that comparison fails.  A yard sign is not an interactive type of media. A yard sign is also only visible to others that live in your neighborhood or are passing by.  When a user posts on social media it goes right into the face of others in their network.  It is more like posting yard signs in the front yards of everyone in their network.  Others open their phone’s browser or sit down at their PC and the memes are in their face.

When we make a political post on our social media, we are asking for feedback regardless if we realize it or not. It may be a video on our YouTube channel or a meme on our Facebook or Instagram.  Whatever the means and media, someone that disagrees is likely to respond.  Imagine leaving a $100 bill on the dashboard of your car and discovering someone had broken into the vehicle while you were gone and stolen the money.  Would that be expected?  Well, theft is always wrong and breaking into another person’s car to take their money is never justified.  However, it certainly would not be surprising if we were to leave large amounts of cash in the open to be easily seen. Those that feel exhausted by political posts on social media, and yet continue to post political opinions, are acting out in a self-destructive manner.

Some people that get caught up in this self-destructive behavior blame it on those that a provoking them.  They label them trolls.  A troll on social media is one that posts something that is inflammatory, or off-topic, with the purpose of getting other people upset.  An example would be someone leaving the comment “this video sucks” on a YouTube video.  While political discussion is frequently upsetting, labeling someone a troll that is disagreeing may just be a way of trying to blame them for getting upset.  James Hanson writing for University of Nebraska, Lincoln clarified this. “Someone who argues a point isn’t trolling.  Someone who brings something off topic into the conversation in order to make that person mad IS trolling.” (Hanson, 2018) Trolls often strike business pages on social media.  They will derogatory posts on the page about the business. Blaming someone else for my emotional reaction to them is a

I enjoy discussing politics.  I have enjoyed it since I was in high school.  I am a political independent which means my ideology is not locked into that of a political party.  I have no dog in the fight, so to speak.  I have political opinions, but they are subject to change.  I was once extremely pro-life but became pro-choice because I discovered new information from interacting with those that thought differently.  I was also once a militant environmentalist and today am much more skeptical about the causes of climate change than I once was.  I do chuckle when discussing politics.  I don’t take myself too seriously.  I find it very humorous when I hear someone making an argument that I used to make myself but then later saw as faulty and abandoned.

Politics is not for everyone.  While some people find it incredibly boring, others get so upset when people disagree with them that it is hardly worth the emotional price they pay.  Human relationships are what make life enjoyable and satisfying.  Over 70% of the people we know and interact with think differently about politics than we do.  If we cannot disagree without getting upset, we either need to cut off interaction with all of those people or avoid discussing politics.  Expecting others to agree with us politically so that we can preserve the relationship is simply not a realistic expectation.   

 

References:

Anderson, M., Auxier, B., (2020). 55% of u.s. social media users say… Retrieved from pewresearch.org

Hanson, J., (2018). Trolls and their impact on social media. Retrieved from umlcms.unl.edu