When you have been fed the story that you live in the land of opportunity and plenty and you believe it, you may not able to see what is really around you. For instance, Americans believe that they live in the greatest nation on earth but the reality suggests something different:
- Wages earned in 2011 were on par with those earned in 1978
- According to the OECD Americans work longer hours for the same pay compared to workers in other developed nations
- The Global Wealth Report, found that America has one of the highest levels of income inequality in all the developed countries
When we tell ourselves a story often enough, it becomes hard wired into us even when there is evidence to the contrary. This happens on a personal level and on a societal level. Human beings have a high propensity to fall mercy to confirmation bias. Confirmation bias (selection bias) occurs when we pay attention to only the information which confirms our beliefs. People will expose themselves to situations and information that confirms what they already believe and will ignore anything that challenges their belief. Even when allowance is made to listen to another point of view, it is not used to broaden one’s perspective, but rather to prove that the other is in fact wrong and further justify your own belief. Just think of the last time you were in an argument. It didn’t matter what the other person said, you were right and that was the end of it!
Do we even hear what is being said? Or do we hear what we want to hear? This to me is very unsettling both on a personal level and society level. When we make arguments for or against any topic or issue we are being selective in the data we provide. The funny thing is that we can talk and preach until we are blue in the face. If our audience is not predisposed to listening to us the chances of them really seeing it from our perspective is very slim. This is clearly evident in the political arena. Both the US and Canada are in election mode. I wonder how many people take into consideration their own confirmation or selection bias. How much of what you’re hearing is what you ONLY want to hear and how much are you actually ignoring?
Parents, teachers, (present company not excluded) politicians and other leader in society all suffer from this confirmation or selection bias. These individuals will always find data and evidence that supports their arguments. Parents, for example, will tell their kids to stay in school and work hard and will give numerous examples of successful people who have done just that. They will pay little attention or never mention the handful who has managed to leave school early and go on to be a tremendous success. Nor will they point out successful individuals who never even went to school. As a parent, I am totally guilty of this. I too only look for evidence to support my view of the world and that is what I pass on to my children. I tend to look for the silver lining and see each challenge as an opportunity. This is what I am teaching them. I point out happy people who are successful and ignore the miserable one who are also successful because I believe that my children can benefit more from this mode of thinking than any other.
Knowing that we are prone to confirmation bias is not enough to allow us to overcome it. However, it’s a good starting point. Be open to the idea that what you believe in can be absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Don’t chain yourself to only your perspective. Keep an open mind (easier said than done). Investigate your beliefs and question them when you can’t find supporting evidence or when it just doesn’t make sense or contradicts with what is really happening.
We can always find evidence to support whatever position or ideology we take. What is important is that we don’t shut ourselves off from the opportunity to expand our knowledge and grow and learn from for questioning what we have been taught to believe in. In the best case scenario your beliefs should be of your own choosing. It should not be one that was inherited or imposed on you.
My challenge to you is for you to take stock of what type of belief system is running your life. If you are happy then good for you, continue! If not, know that you can change it. The first step to changing your situation from financial to emotional and otherwise is to adopt the appropriate belief system that supports you.