We are constantly comparing and contrasting those we meet to those in our lives who have made big a big impact on us – for better or for worse. This is why we can see a trait in a friend or partner, and it can remind us of a trait in one of our parents, or vice versa. Parents are an easy target for comparison because our childhoods impact our adult lives, unequivocally, as a matter of necessity, and our parents are usually a major part of our young development. This doesn’t stop with our parents though; we can also experience a powerful draw to compare those we meet to those who have harmed us in the past, and more rarely, to those who have made us feel good. At the end of the day, we want to avoid being harmed by corrosive individuals, and we want to surround ourselves with those who make us feel good. Our compulsion to categorize each other serves that purpose, and it’s an evolutionary habit we’ve formed in the name of self-preservation and survival.
We all do it, we all contrast and we all compare; we misjudge, we elevate, we cry foul, occasionally we might even judge someone fairly and accurately, but probably a lot less frequently than we believe. Everyone has a history that we are completely ignorant to, or at least mostly ignorant to. These contrasts do become a problem however when they begin to paint the colors of our world in a way that leads to our further suffering. If we are always looking for the darkness in others, or in the world at large, then it’s all that we will see and we will find the evidence that validates our beliefs.
Humans are funny creatures because, although we are capable of great reason and logic, we are equally capable of filtering our data through emotion and feeling, therefore distorting reality. We can want so badly to maintain control of our lives, that we try to fit each other into categorical boxes; this guy doesn’t hold the door – asshole, check; this girl refrains from all drugs, sex and alcohol – prude, check; political opponent – sheep, check. This process makes sorting the good from the evil highly efficient, but incredibly ineffective. Unfortunately for us, life is not so simple. No two human beings are just alike, and if we are constantly searching for a signal, a “red” flag, or a “green” flag, we will probably find it. This is called confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.
The tricky part is to stay neutral. The tricky part is to be objective. The tricky part is to overcome bias. The tricky part is to acknowledge that we can reserve judgment and still perform our duties well – as neighbors, partners, and as parents… No, as human beings…