Many people live their lives jumping from one cognitive bias to another, with a reluctance to delve deeper or look beyond. They see what they want, they perceive things, events, and people around them in a light that reinforces what they already think or fear of the world or hope the world to be like, and often in a one-dimensional way. This can range from something superficial like snap judgements and the famous halo effect -for instance seeing an attractive person and automatically, sometimes unconsciously attributing them other good traits like being good-natured or intelligent (although there is also the reverse effect, in which people associate some positive assessments with negative personality traits), from the Barnum effect with practices like astrology and certain personality tests, to having confirmation biases such as unsubstantiated interpretations of ambiguous events and situations which fit some pre-existing beliefs or the illusory correlation of behaviours or events. People also tend to have selective, biased memories, often more likely to remember emotionally-charged events more vividly and subjectively. They often have a filter through which all information and their perception of reality goes, which reaffirms some values they hang onto and – sometimes unwisely- attach their sense of self and their interpretation of others to.
This may seem like an effective and useful self-defence mechanism in many cases, because it means you can always stick to your own little bubble, never having to confront points of view which don’t match your own and which will make you contemplate and potentially doubt the beliefs that you’ve relied on for a long time. However, this approach to life is pretty clearly a double-edged sword. It can often prove to be delusion-inducing, divisive, and toxic as it prevents genuine connection among people and can even turn everything into a -sometimes subtle and insidious- war of ideas, with every person being uncompromising and unwilling to let their guard down and be open or receptive. This war is not always transparent or even vocalised, it can be silent, low-key, as well as appearing disguised as something else-i.e. power trips – because of feelings of repression and the fear or rejection of the unpredictable and the unknown. Things get particularly problematic when the subject concerned is something of importance to people, something related to someone’s core beliefs or nature such as views on life purposes, career choices, relationships, kids, religion, etc.
What would be the solution then? To judge appearances and only hang out with those who never challenge any of your beliefs? This scenario is quite problematic and actually impossible unless you only seek superficial connections and you’re not truly connected with others- because otherwise, you will most likely never be on the same page with anyone else entirely. Whether that’s a partner, friend, acquaintance, family member, there will always be a situation in which your views on some subject diverge. Because everyone has had unique experiences which shaped them differently. If you’re lucky, one of you will be more diplomatic about it and drop their view to prevent reaching a point where you’ll be pulling each other’s hair out. But is it such a good thing? Always relinquishing one’s standpoint in order to stay away from any semblance of confrontation is not a long-term, or constructive tactic, because it doesn’t stimulate change or self-development and doesn’t really benefit anyone in the long run. It normally only provides moments of relief and passing through life as lightly as possible- although even that depends on what the voice of your ego says.
I anticipate what one might think: maybe that’s all you want sometimes, moments of relief and bliss. Choosing your battles seems like sensible advice, after all, doesn’t it? Indeed, and in the end you will inevitably also weigh how much you value the opinion and judgement of the other, as well as how much you value your own opinion, how important it is to you; if you decide it’s a matter of significance and, simultaneously, that it’s a person whose opinion matters to you, and you can’t just brush things off, then you need to be aware of how you tackle the subject, don’t try to make it seem like you’re imposing your perception of reality on someone else. People might be less inclined or willing to digest and properly, openly process information communicated with an ostentatious holier-than-thou attitude. Even though you may find it difficult to act in an emotionally intelligent way if it’s a subject you feel strongly about, like an ingrained belief, it’s not impossible. Promote acceptance by embodying an accepting and open approach to the world around you. Sometimes this implies accepting that people have different opinions, some of which you may view as wrong; other times the best approach is to educate, where there is ignorance. The more you get to know yourself and others, the easier it will be to know when to be assertively relentless in your convictions, and when to let go.
The key is to aim towards becoming the best versions of our selves. Let’s be aware of our cognitive biases and not trust them blindly, let’s be open-minded and non-judgemental and non-dismissive towards other perceptions of reality. Let’s build bridges. Let’s do this whilst still being authentic and true to ourselves and to our own core system of values, but also true to the people around us. Let’s choose understanding first and foremost, which ultimately leads to happiness anyway, and let’s defy the narcissistic tendency of our contemporary society by practising empathy and fulfilling self-interests simultaneously, rather than treating them as mutually exclusive.