I have been involved in a couple of disheartening conversations lately, and witness to dozens more on various social media platforms. One of these conversations centered around the evils of yoga and how all Christians should avoid it.
There were a few folks in the conversation who took a rational approach and discussed why this was not objectively true, but the rest kept referring to other negative things they had heard or read about yoga and making blanket statements about it.
“A cognitive bias refers to the systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality.”
I do this. You do this. All humans do this. We can’t possibly have all the facts, perfect recall and utter objectivity about everything. Our brains often take shortcuts to swiftly arrive at a conclusion because, well, we don’t have all day to stand around figuring things out.
One of these shortcuts is a specific kind of bias:
“Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.”
So, then, if you think yoga is evil, your attention will be drawn to articles and posts that confirm your opinion and will tend to ignore or discredit articles and posts that challenge your opinion. It works for people who don’t think yoga is evil, too. This axiom sums it up perfectly: “If you believe something, you find evidence for it everywhere.”
I’ve written before on why opinions are not to be trusted (here and here), but this bias situation goes beyond mere opinion, to cherished beliefs – things that we assume are right and have never questioned.
Well, what if one or more of those things are wrong?
Being wrong isn’t so bad; I’ve had lots of practice at it! It was crazy hard at first – for me, because I’m an Assertive and a Head Type, and the one thing I could feel good about as a bullied kid was that I was smarter than my bullies. It’s hard for all of us, though, because our ego (personality) doesn’t like to be wrong. It makes us feel like not just our beliefs are wrong, but that WE are wrong, bad, inferior.
One of the benefits of doing this work of self-awareness and self-compassion is that you become okay with being wrong. So, it’s not so much about being wrong. It’s more about how we treat other people.
The other conversation I was in on involved a teenage boy. The topic of addiction somehow came up, and he said, “Well, it’s their fault for becoming addicted.” I said, “No one ever intends to become an addict.” He replied, “Well, it’s still their fault.”
This young man had gotten hold of a belief and was certain of it. He has not yet been exposed to the Enneagram or its Levels of Development, nor the many works by those in the addiction field about the genetics and other mechanisms involved in addiction. He doesn’t know that some personality types are naturally more susceptible to excess and addiction.
Yet he was certain of his belief. It had a certain arrogance to it, along with a scorn for those who are addicted. And that’s the trouble with personality and with cognitive bias: it can lead to making judgements about God’s precious beloved humans.
Where does this leave us? Well, I hope it leaves us with the realization that not everything we think or belief is objectively true. I hope it gives us all pause to think about how we categorize people – and WHY. And I hope it creates a space between assumption and action so that we can choose compassion.
Russ Hudson says, “The cost of being right is love.” Being right used to be super important to me, but it’s a price I’m not so willing to pay anymore.