How long has it been since you’ve read what Jesus said about hypocrisy? You know, the speck and the log thing? Go ahead and read it now. I’ll wait.
When you read it, did you picture yourself with the log in your eye, or someone else? Because when we talk about hypocrisy or fairness or bias, I am afraid that I mostly picture myself as the victim rather than the perpetrator, all while knowing these things about myself:
- I make mistakes
- I change my mind
- I don’t always have all the facts
- I haven’t experienced everything
- I can be stubborn
- I am not always fair
- I am not always honest
If nothing on that list applies to you, then feel free to skip this post. Next week I’ll go back to talking about THOSE OTHER GUYS who write BIASED stuff. But for today – just for today – I want to talk about MY bias. (For you, that’s your bias, by the way). I am not trying to be condescending. I know we all know we have biases. I’m only hoping that seeing it in ourselves first will help us be more honest in analyzing it in the media.
Remember playing basketball as a kid, when your P.E. teacher taught you to pivot to avoid traveling? I was told to pretend one foot was nailed to the gym floor. I could turn in any direction and see what my teammates and opponents were doing all over the floor, but I wasn’t allowed to lift that foot.
That is how I understand BIAS.
Bias is seeing lots of things in lots of directions, but without stepping away from your own position.
Sometimes bias is about picking sides. Just like with basketball, we identify with ONE team. Our team is best and the other team is not just filled with opponents, but with enemies. Traveling away from our position on the court feels like breaking the rules (even though traveling doesn't actually seem to be against the rules in the NBA these days!)
And just like with sports, we often choose our side based on our upbringing and experiences. I am a Forty-Niners fan because my father was one. Some people are Mets fans because their fathers chose the Yankees. My brother-in-law was a Cowboys fan for years until he was so bothered by the management of that team that he chose to stop cheering for them. Now he’s a loyal Broncos fan.
Politics can look very similar. Bob’s a Democrat because his father’s a Democrat. Joe’s a Democrat because his father is a Republican. Dennis used to be a Democrat but when his beliefs moved to the right, he became a loyal Republican.
Come to the Dark Side. We have Cookies.
I don’t press that analogy to diminish the importance of politics. Life isn’t just like sports. The decisions we make in the voting booth matter greatly.
But in the meantime, why do I struggle to even consider someone else’s opinion? Why does their point of view make me so angry?
Part of it is just arrogance. I have opinions -- right ones -- and everyone must hear them!
Part of it is frustration. (If THEY would just listen to ME they would surely see reason!)
But there’s more to it. Sometimes I think that if I don't respond to every view different from my own, if I don't die on every hill, then I'm not being true to myself and my values. I'm being wishy-washy, fake or cowardly. I'm missing my big opportunity to make my point and drop the mike!
Or worse than that – if our will is not strong, we might be seduced to the Dark Side! (They have cookies, after all!)
You think I’m kidding? One psychological study suggests that when we defend our political opinions, we often feel as if our very lives are at stake – especially when the issues being discussed are about society, economics or national security. We believe that if our values and beliefs are not upheld, we will suffer loss – that our children will suffer loss. The kind from which we can never recover. Of course we get upset!
And this can be true whether you lean left or right. (I’ve seen both arguments on social media). So we dig in our heels. Stand our ground … and the teeter totter goes up and down because the other guy is standing his ground too.
I’m All Ears
But what if seeing things from another perspective was possible without compromising your beliefs?
My cousin Jill shared a great blog post on Facebook last week about the power of listening. Just listening, without comment, as someone explains their point of view. In this case, it was a man who went to the Republican National Convention and set up a listening booth. In the post, he describes an encounter with a woman who had strong beliefs about abortion that didn’t match his own. He struggled, but found that just LISTENING to her without sharing his own beliefs was the best course of action.
Could you do that? Can I do that? Without compromising my beliefs? And is there any benefit?
I don’t know, yes, yes and yes.
- Compassion. We are all humans struggling through this world. It’s great to connect with others and understand their FEELINGS, even if they don’t convict you of the same ideas.
- Knowledge. Maybe you’ll learn some facts you didn’t know.
- Reason. Understanding how they have come to their viewpoint will likely give you better logic to defend your own.
- TRUTH. We want the truth, right?
There is no danger in listening without comment and then pondering what I’ve heard. Those with opposing views don’t have magical powers. If they can sway me during the course of one conversation, my convictions are not that solid in the first place.
Sure there's a time to listen. But there's also a time to speak up. So how do we do it while considering the opinions of others? Let's return to the New Testament for a great example.
When the Apostle Paul, a monotheistic Jewish Christian preacher, visited Athens and saw that it was a city full of idols, he was upset. Scripture says his spirit was provoked. So how did he react?
- He took his time. It says he reasoned with the people of Athens for several days.
- He took their insults in stride. When people called him names, he didn't lose his cool.
- He let them ask questions. "Wait for them to ask you who you know," as the song says.
- He complimented them and found common ground. "I see that you are religious in all respects," Paul said.
- He shared his message clearly, without any passive aggressive comments or snide insults.
So what was the result? Well, some of them sneered at him. A couple of guys believed him.
Back to sports: Have you ever noticed that fairness only matters when it’s the other team? It’s okay if the Sun Devils get away with a violation, but when it’s the Wildcats?!? I will howl and scream bloody murder (usually at the television – really helpful, by the way.) A foul is only a foul if the other team is guilty. If the refs don't catch it on MY team, well that's just too bad.
Is it the same in politics? Should it be, considering the media often plays referee in the political arena?
I don't think so. For my part, I want fairness. I’m pretty conservative on most issues, but I don’t want the guy on the right to win just because he’s wearing a red tie, and I don’t want the media to conspire to sway voters one way or the other either.
If I’m on the side of TRUTH and FAIRNESS, I must demand that the media be fair to both parties – not just mine.
So as I write this blog, or those that follow, will I be so focused on the other guy’s bias that I don’t see my own? Hopefully this small measure of self-reflection will help me check myself. Feel free to admonish me yourself, if you see unfairness creeping in on me.