Against Confirmation Bias

It’s not often that I actively catch myself in a moment where, were I not paying attention, my brain could veer off along a poorly-conceived line of thinking. Since I did happen to notice that happening recently, I thought I’d share the anecdote and elaborate a bit on why I feel it important to share.

About two weeks ago, I was sitting and chatting with a co-worker. Since I was new to the library, we were meeting so that I might get a better sense of her duties, how her position fit into the overall “flow” of the library. At one point in the conversation, she commented that it was always a good idea for any given person to think of others as likely having different opinions than themselves, that such difference was intrinsic and OK, and that it’s important to recognize that we don’t know where any one person is coming from. In short: avoid making suppositions and judgments.

While this was nothing surprising in itself, I thought it was a timely piece of advice, as I had been struggling for a bit, experiencing frustration that stemmed directly from interacting with strangers. Considering this, I paused, reminded myself that the other librarian was right, and decided to bear this non-judgmental difference in mind.

I felt, at first, that low-lying, knee-jerk reaction to think “what amazing timing, that someone should say something so precisely helpful now, when I needed it.” Later on, however, I thought about it and concluded that, if I framed it that way, I would be falling prey to a convenient bias of thinking. If I was being honest with myself, I’d been grappling with these frustrations for more than a month before having this conversation, and, in the interim, had countless other conversations with many other people, none of whom said anything that was connected to this issue in any way.

It’s a bit too easy to seize on these moments in which you perceive something as unnaturally timely. I will sometimes hear people commenting on this, connecting it to ideas of fate or some higher system of communication at work in the universe.

Now, that said, none of that changes that actual utility of her suggestion. It’s still very good that I heard it and took it into mind. But an unbiased consideration of the timing of it was also important to admit.

I’m taking the time to write this small post about a commonplace realization because I think it’s important to keep my perception of life experiences clear. I’m hoping this acts as a reminder to me to always consider the authentic nature of what I experience in my life.

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