I alluded to a topic in my last post that I’d like to delve into a little more. It is this: searching and seeking out whole truth. I’d like to pick up that theme by highlighting a trap we often fall into in our public life, a phenomenon social scientists call confirmation bias.
Under Confirmation bias, decision makers seek out and assign more weight to evidence confirming their hypotheses, and ignore or don’t fully consider evidence negating their hypotheses. In public discussions, confirmation bias plagues us by saddling us with self-fulfilling social, political, and racial prejudices. Investigators and journalists often perpetuate confirmation bias by framing data in ways that confirm their views and personal conclusions. One example may be the many theories on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, that to this day still stir controversy; or television news programs where the producer chooses “expert guests” based on whether the guest shares the producer’s political and social opinions. Is this not a mockery of our sacred and cherished freedom of the press?
I want to focus on what this means for the individual on their own personal journey in seeking truth. I believe that this generation is by far the most active when it comes to researching topics and simply being aware of what is happening in the world around them. However, this also makes confirmation bias extremely dangerous, making everybody guilty of it at one point or another. Anyone remember that ancient verse, “Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.”? There is great wisdom in those words.
People: the internet has been around long enough to prove and disprove absolutely EVERYTHING. If I was so inclined, I could find articles on how eating fruits and vegetables is bad for your health, and drinking water is not as effective for hydrating your body as drinking Gatorade. Now, I hope everyone reading this realises how ridiculous those two statements are, but they WILL be published somewhere as FACT. This to me is terrifying, but there is something else I find far more infuriating.
Often, I have lengthy conversations with individuals who have certain concerns or challenges. After listening carefully, I will sometimes recommend they look into a specific topic that I have found very helpful for either myself or others going through the same struggles. Later, in a follow up conversation, a common response is “I did some research, I’m not interested in your solution.” Wait… What? What do you mean you’ve done some research? I gave you something to try, that could change your life, won’t cost you a thing, won’t inconvenience your life or even take much time… What possible research could you have done that would simply erase the possibility from your life?
I remember recently doing this for someone and getting that response, including some details that seemed potent, pointing to the “obvious, science-backed evidence” that what I had proposed would not AND could not work. I was a little troubled, to say the least, and searched the same terms on Google. What I found made my eyes POP. Out of all the search results available on the subject, EVERY SINGLE link that came up sang praises to this amazing revolutionary method. But right there, third from the top, the ONLY negative result on google I could find – quoted, word for word, was this friend’s conclusion. Are you kidding me? Out of the flood of positive information, you picked out the SINGLE garbage article that would back your own lack of belief?
Oh right. You’re a “skeptic”. Wake up call; You’re not a skeptic, you’re a mindless drone using confirmation bias to support your own negativity. Too harsh? Oops. (Don’t worry, I’m not using my blog to vent about this behind this person’s back. I told them this same thing on the phone.)
To find truth, one needs to look at all sides of an issue, formulate some sort of educated opinion, and then put it to the test.
Here is my challenge though – you ready?
You remember that hilarious Jim Carrey movie, “Yes Man”? If you haven’t seen it, the premise is Carl Allen is at a standstill. No future… Until the day he enrols in a personal development program based on a very simple idea: say yes to everything! Carl discovers with amazement the magical power of “Yes”, and sees his professional and romantic life turned upside down overnight: an unexpected promotion and a new girlfriend. Yes, I know, the overall message of the movie is that while good can be better’s enemy, and seizing the day can bring happiness, not all opportunities should be taken senselessly. However, the general idea we get goes hand in hand with my challenge to you.
Focus on yes. By yes, I mean happiness, positivity, and love. Embrace wonderful possibilities and opportunities in your life. I promise, the only thing standing between you and everything you have ever wanted out of life is you. In the world we live in today, there is absolutely nothing that can stop you from achieving what you want to achieve. I have seen truly overwhelming odds overcome by the seemingly smallest and hardest-done-by of people.
There IS something you have to offer this world. It’s not fair that we don’t get to see it because you are afraid. Fear is the Big Enemy, and that’s a topic for another day. Stay tuned!