We are riven with cognitive bias, it’s only human. Back in my day (!) the chief purpose of education was, in fact, to enable us to recognize and overcome it (sometimes referred to as “teaching people how to think”), which sadly seems to be going out of the window.
One of the most persistent of biases is our tendency to seek out, agree with and like things that we already agree with, what we already think. We often tend to cherry pick facts and arguments that support our pre-existing beliefs. The internet, with its infinite capacity to allow us to pick and choose what we read probably makes this worse but that’s a slightly different angle to what has been on my mind of late.
People tend to believe whatever makes them feel better about themselves and their circumstances. Whether it is actually true or not often takes a back seat.
Take parenting, for example. I recently saw a Facebook meme stating that “Bad Parents make Bad Kids.“.
I think it is more true to say that the parents of great kids tend to believe that the way kids turn out is primarily determined by the skills of the parents, and the parents of challenging kids tend to believe that on the whole they were just born that way.
I’m not a psychologist (and do not hold out any authority in this regard) but I do read bits and pieces. The nature v nurture argument has been extensively studied in terms of personality, mental health problems, often focussing on studies of genetically identical twins for example. The consensus seems to be that in reality it’s a bit a both. However, our natural cognitive bias tends to make parents of the blessed underplay the dumb luck that has contributed to their situation, and this can breed a certain self-righteousness. Those in the other boat may choose to underplay the fact that their parenting style may not have helped matters, which can breed a certain abdication of accountability.
My three kids are all very different, and I’m pretty sure they have all been given pretty similar treatment. I like to take some credit for the good stuff, knowing also that to some extent it’s a happy accident. I take some responsibility for the bad stuff, whilst accepting that sometimes you can’t buck a bad hand. I work quite hard at chipping away at self-delusions that bolster a story that I am the bees’ knees. I’m not that, nor am I a monster.
I once saw this expressed as:
“We are as stupid as we need to be to keep our jobs”
…which is just another way of saying we tend to construct stories that make sense of our lives in a broadly positive way, irrespective of whether they make any natural sense or not, and often without regard to inconvenient facts. Those stories are built of bricks, some of which may be a little brittle, or maybe even made of glass. Sometimes we don’t like having them poked at. We seek out what confirms rather than challenges them.