It seems normal for people’s eyes to open wider as they get older, and it seems only natural for people who have a more diverse experience base to see deeper into their surroundings, and perhaps occasionally to take deeper meaning from events that unfold around them.  However, it’s good to recognize that the windows through which we see ourselves, our experiences, others, and others’ views of us may actually need to be cleaned out on occasion in order for us to receive full benefit from these experiences.  Recall the Biblical warning to not call attention to the speck in another’s eye while there’s a plank in our own; whoever was responsible for that verse knew that we can never fully understand what is going on around us without first understanding how and why we see things the way we do.  Sometimes it is much easier to see why someone would interpret a message the way they did than to understand why we delivered it the way we did.

There were a few specific moments somewhat early on at which it became appropriate for me to unlearn some things that had been either directly or indirectly taught to me at some point in my childhood:

  • Reading too much is weird.
  • Reading science fiction is weird.
  • Reading fantasy is weird.
  • Reading stuff that’s outside the mainstream best-seller lists is weird.
  • Children whose parents are divorced are not to be trusted.
  • People who would get a divorce are not to be trusted.
  • Gay people are not to be trusted.
  • People who adhere to other belief systems (and people who dance) are wrong and going to burn in Hell eternally, even good and kind-hearted people who haven’t had the opportunity to learn the “right” religion.  Also, meditation is the active practice of inviting demons to possess your body.
  • People who live in apartments are not to be trusted.
  • Blatant racism is okay, but under-the-radar racism is better.  Going on record as speaking out against racists who are in or seeking positions of power is a bad thing; if you oppose their views, it is best to keep your opinions to yourself.

Luckily, along the way I came to understand more about the background of the people and the institutions who initially transmitted those beliefs to me, and was able to rationalize the invalidity of those messages.  It’s relatively easy, assuming normal interaction with other American humans, to unlearn some of the more obviously fucked-up lessons like the ones listed above.  But after multiple decades of thinking and behaving in certain manners, it can be tougher work to recognize the effect that bias from our own unique cultural programming has on our own thinking, not to mention the effect it can have on one’s interaction with others.

I learned in college (and earlier in high school) that the 3 primary requirements for communication are the SENDER, the MESSAGE, and the RECEIVER.  And, of course, there is the ever-present foil to the communication process, NOISE.  Good communicators understand that NOISE can be problematic enough to completely undermine the formulation, transmission, and receipt of the message.  Mitigating noise can be problematic, because only the obvious factors (if even those) can be identified and eliminated; one of the hidden components of noise is BIAS.

In judgment and decision making

Main article: Cognitive bias

A cognitive bias is the human tendency to make systematic errors in certain circumstances based on cognitive factors rather than evidence. Such biases can result from information-processing shortcuts called heuristics. They include errors in judgment, social attribution, and memory. Cognitive biases are a common outcome of human thought, and often drastically skew the reliability of anecdotal and legal evidence. It is a phenomenon studied in cognitive science and social psychology.

Bias can skew the message to such an extent that the information being received has little to do with the information that was intended to be transmitted by the sender.  Bias, in fact, can fuck up a message before it has even been crafted, before the receiver even has anything to do.  Bias influences not only thought formation prior to transmission of the message (e.g., bias against left-handed people), but also the words and tone and body language used during its transmission.

Considering the level of influence that bias can exert before the transmission of a message is even attempted, once you stir in auto-correct, it is amazing that humans still haven’t killed each other off completely.  On the other hand, if computers can now render the images our brain is currently processing, perhaps humans can still hope to eventually understand each other if they really try, right?

Maybe not.

————————- BARELY TANGENTIAL————————-


If we meet and I say, “Hi,”
That’s a salutation.
If you ask me how I feel,
That’s consideration.
If we stop and talk awhile,
That’s a conversation.
If we understand each other,
That’s communication.
If we argue, scream, and fight,
That’s an altercation.
If later we apologize,
That’s reconciliation.
If we help each other home,
That’s cooperation.
And all these ations added up
Make civilization.

(And if I say this is a wonderful poem,
Is that exaggeration?)

–(Shel Silverstein, A Light in the Attic)