“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
~William James

One of the fallacies of being human is that we think we’re objective and clear minded, but we’re not.

Because we are human, because we’ve evolved to be this way, because it makes life simpler, our brains work to clarify what seems uncertain and to categorize what’s in front of us. This forces us to move away from a neutral stance and to, instead, fall victim to the prejudices and biases we don’t even think we have.

We may not think we have them, but we do. And they’ve been researched, studied, and itemized. (Read this list of cognitive biases to learn more. There is even a bias that blinds us to our own biases.)

So, if we think we’re thinking clearly when we’re not – when we’re merely rearranging, or confirming, our own prejudices – what can we do about that? How can we battle against something we don’t even know is there?

The first step is to be willing to admit that we may be blinded to what’s really going on in our brains. We have to be aware of the Ladder of Inference in our brain, that causes us to:

  1. Select the data we notice – about the people or situations around us
  2. Add meanings to the data we select – to explain why someone did what they did
  3. Make assumptions based on our meanings – take for granted that this person, or someone like this person, will act this way the next time as well
  4. Draw conclusions based on our assumptions – decide that this is what we will always get from this person (or someone like them)
  5. Adopt beliefs and values based on the conclusions – so that we get even more set in how we view the person/situation, etc.
  6. Select only the data around us that confirms our beliefs and values – this is known as confirmation bias
  7. Take actions based on the beliefs and values and data we’ve selected that confirms what we already know

We have to be aware of this ladder, and our prejudices, and we have to try hard – very hard at times – to work against this automatic reaction. So that we aren’t merely rearranging our prejudices when we think we are thinking.

How have you learned to see – and think – beyond your prejudices?
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If you want to see and think differently, contact Robyn at rmcleod@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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