Me Biased? No Way!
By JIM NICHOLS
One of the most common delusions for you and me is to be blind to our own presuppositions or biases. Many have defined such assumptions as a worldview. This can be manifested on both personal and national levels.
As an historical example, the New England Native American population in 1600, being a nomadic group, had a much different view of “ownership” and “property” than did the European settlers. As the seasons changed, the Native Americans moved about; they lived a light and mobile life and had few permanent possessions. European settlers, on the other hand, brought a history of property rights and assumed that land was to be developed into villages and towns for permanent occupation. The stage was set for worldview conflict.
Bringing this to the modern century, there is no mystery about whether individuals, organizations, states, or countries have worldviews that dominate decisions and relationships. Most recently, we have seen this in the struggle between scientifically based guidelines for health safety regarding the COVID pandemic and economic (“away with lockdowns”) movements. If one were to ask Americans to define what they mean by the “bottom line,” we would learn much about their worldview.
The fact is that everyone sees the world through a lens; that lens has been shaped by our cultural perspective and, if we wish to grow as humans and (especially) God’s people, we need to recognize that lens and critique it. Since this worldview generally oscillates in the background like the operating system of our computer, we need to hit a few specific keys on the keyboard to bring up the worldview and examine it regularly. What are the presuppositions (or assumptions) that shape our thinking and our behavior? What are the values that enable us to interpret the world around us? Each of us has a moral compass; what is that compass?
To say we do not have a worldview is to be deceived. We are also deceived if we do not admit that our actions do not always accurately reflect our worldview. Our behavior does not always parallel our belief. Believers count on God’s grace at that point. Nevertheless, functioning adults (including me) should never be far from examining why we think and respond as we do.
To be more specific, consider some of these common biases that are sitting in our hearts and souls.
Many of us struggle to respond positively to new ideas or to new ways to perform a task already familiar to us. We already have a standard and that standard is former ideas, former information, and trusted authorities. When a new, but related direction is suggested, it does not fit, and our initial response is to reject it. Perhaps the new direction may need to be rejected, but this needs to be a considered decision, not a knee-jerk reflex, as it is with many of us, unfortunately.
In addition, we are often confronted with additional information concerning a topic and the complexity of these add-ons seems unnecessary and overwhelming. Despite the “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” philosophy, the fact is that even if something is not broken, that does not mean it cannot be improved. If our worldview insists on staying with the familiar which seems simpler, we may be missing important growth.
If we see everything through the lens of how we have seen it in the past, we are unnecessarily stuck. If we insist on favoring a plan that is the simplest, we may miss great opportunities. If we insist on seeing options only through the way our community sees and has seen them, we may miss gifts from God.
The more we are aware of our own preoccupations and biases, the more we will be willing to venture into some new revelations from God.
We must admit that some things just cannot be seen from where we are now; we need to grow and mature. Our worldview allows us to explain to ourselves why we do what is necessary and good; this needs constant re-examination by us. I need to be considering my responses with an eye to understanding why I have made that response.
As occurs, I realize I have now been writing and speaking to myself. You got to come along and listen.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain