Everyone has biases: ways of interacting with reality that distort our perception of the truth. By constraining where we look for truth, biases play a role in defining our lives. Traditionally we view biases as negative, and they often are, especially when they result in harm to us or to others. Harmful biases include those which cast a group of people as inferior, which is often what we talk about when we say someone is “biased” or “a bigot”. As someone who struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and depression, I have plenty of negative biases of my own: ways of viewing the world that cast myself as a victim, or as worthless, or as somehow evil. In working through my condition, I have had to deal constructively with my biases. I believe that we can gain by exploring our biases.
For me, treatment has involved interacting with and learning from people who share different sets of biases, who have different views of the way the world works. This is often hard, as it involves going out of my comfort zone and acknowledging that other viewpoints are valid, even when they contradict my own. It involves humility, and the realization that there is more knowledge and experience out there than I can possibly understand by myself. At the same time, going outside of my biases is liberating. It leads me to view myself for who I am: a dignified but less than perfect person, in a world of dignified, but less than perfect people. Exploring my biases and those of other people becomes a way of lending value to our most cherished ideals; not because they are universally true, but because I respect the meaning that they bring to my life or to the lives of others.
In a divided world where other people and other cultures are too often viewed through the lens of conflict or competing interests, I believe there is much to gain from exploring our biases. This will involve examining some of our most fundemental ways of thinking about ourselves and others. It will be uncomfortable for us as individuals and as a society, but I earnestly believe that we will gain more in understanding than we will lose in comfort. Just as understanding my biases has facilitated my recovery from the self-destructive tendencies of mental illness, I believe that understanding our biases as a society will facilitate greater cohesiveness and an ability to better live with our neighbors. My hope is that I, my neighbors, and our society will join together in examining our biases. We may not find all of the same answers, or even ask all of the same questions, but perhabs we’ll discover that we all have the same basic right to search for meaning and responsibility to do so peacefully. That discovery alone would make the process worthwhile.
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