Freeing ourselves of the confirmation bias

Catherine Meeks in her book, The Night is Long but Light Comes in the Morning, has a meditation on the “shadow” in our lives. It’s that unseen force in our lives that will fill in the gaps between fact and our perception. We have a way of seeing something, or someone, and it is quickly “confirmed” by this “shadow” if we don’t get facts quickly enough to fill in the gaps.

We all deal with confirmation bias in our lives. In politics, in culture, in the news, all of it. We see something happen, don’t know all the details, and then say, “Oh, of course.” Our “shadow” has filled in the blanks and we think we know the story.

There is a deep inner work we each have to work through to overcome the shadows that fill in the blanks for us. A few weeks ago in our men’s Bible study we reached back to our confirmation biases, or “shadows”, concerning Muslims and 9/11. There were some raw emotions laid on the table. There were confessions of how some did deep work to overcome the anger toward people they didn’t even know. There were confessions of some who admitted they still had a bias toward Muslims.

The inner work is accompanied by outer action.

One way to overcome the shadow in our lives is to find out where we may have a bias toward “the other” and do the work of getting to know the other.

Before 9/11 I had already made efforts to know Muslims in my community. When 9/11 happened, I reached out to more Muslims. Some became good friends and our friendship carried through the years I lived in Minneapolis. After 9/11 I spent years bringing my Muslim friends in contact with other friends who had that “shadow” and just didn’t know any Muslims.

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. We each have to do our own work.

This work needs to be done by each of us. It is the work of dismantling racism and it will lead to racial healing.

One other thing: I don’t get to know someone from a different “group” that just agrees with me theologically or politically. That’s easy to find one person and stop. I find people who don’t necessarily agree with me in one way or another and I put myself in their lives. I don’t want to extend my confirmation bias simply by finding a comfortable conversation and ending it there. The work has to be deeper than that.

The work of dismantling racism goes far beyond words. It is beyond legislation. It is a deep work changing our hearts. We have to be willing participants.

And the people of God should be leading the way.

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