Simplistic Views; Harsh Judgments Biases prevent further investigation; and we judge BY: Troy Murphy | February 2017
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Our minds are lazy! We love simplicity. We simplify the reasons behind the causes. The simpler the framework, the more secure we feel—until that framework is shaken. Over-simplified thinking is biological. We have it; we use it. It’s beneficial in many ways, speeding processing of experience, and making sense of happenings. Belief systems passed down for thousands of years thrive on simplified thinking. We acknowledge complexity but emotionally react to biased simplified judgments coloring the world with broad strokes.
There’s evolutionary value to generalizing data. A quick change of directions, a shot of adrenaline, and additional oxygenated blood flowing to muscles prepares us to combat danger. Our body responds immediately to danger—or even misinterpretations of danger; our system activates from a harmless shadow. We emotionally interpret events as good or bad based on small slivers of evidence. Some interpretations are biological; some are based on learning; but most are a blend of both.
We acknowledge complexity but emotionally react to biased simplified judgments coloring the world with broad strokes.
Consciousness of emotions allows for processing of complexity. Awareness of emotions and their triggers helps us identify when an emotional response is not appropriately matched to the triggering event. Consciousness invites inspection of complexity—the influence of many events on the culminating experience.
Recognizing and acknowledging uncertainties produces more anxiety. We may not notice the anxiety but the unknowns creep into the present moment. The anxiety disrupts peace by demanding attention to possible threats in the future. This allows us to avoid some hardships but also induces needless worrying about events that may never occur.
Over-simplifying beliefs calms fears but limits creative responses to the events unexplained by biased views. Labeling people as “good guys” and “bad guys” saves mental effort; every conflict can be solved by identifying the bad guy and punishing him (or her). But this view is archaic. Our justice system struggles with evidence of causes. As often argued in the halls of justice, a person is not culpable because of a neglected childhood, or a junk food habit (the Twinkie defense), or even affluenza. Causes will always be complex, including many causes, most beyond our recognition. An odd mix of development and timing combine to create addictions, fears, and destructive habits. Life will conflict with the simple labels of good and bad. We must include greater complexity in our assessments of cause. When encountering discomforting behaviors of a spouse, friend, or child, we must step away from simplistic labels. The judging errors condemning the shortcomings and poor decisions using a good/bad model encourages self-righteous, harsh responses, harming the relationship.
Identify and challenge categorical thinking. All of us are guilty. Being aware of faulty thinking weakens its influence. True security doesn’t come from a simple predictable world but from acceptance of the reality of a complex world. By accepting complexity, we develop a reservoir of inner and outer resources to courageously meet the unknowns. Our self-confidence grows as we face challenges and are victorious. Our growth then increases our supply of resources.