BY: T. Franklin Murphy | October 2017 (edited 2020)
Concepts formed by words are muddied with bias and amazingly resistant to change. We simplify, label, and then stop investigation.
The self is a complicated subject. We are encouraged to discover the self. In noble vagueness, this makes sense but in practicality simple definitions of self flounder, grasping to identify the dynamic being behind our action, we either become stumped or deceived. Instead of dwelling on the wonder of complexity, in awe for what we cannot know, we settle for simple labels; I’m honest; I’m smart; I’m a victim; I’m a drug abuser.
We need conceptual labels to function and share knowledge in a world of language. But with utility, we lose the gifts of complexity. Simpleness has a significant cost, weakening experience, and intruding on openness. Our dependence on prefixed labels diminishes flexibility to receive the novel.
We shouldn’t abandon examinations into self just because we can't achieve a neat understanding. Knowing underlying motivations, histories along with current patterns of thought and action is enlightening (and helpful). Knowledge of self is the building blocks of identity. The loss is incurred when self-knowledge gives way to rigid labels, demanding confirmations rather than continued investigations. These mindsets create self-confirming biases.
Self-Confirming Bias: Interpreting and filtering new evidence only in ways that only support current beliefs.
Self-confirming biases, once set, reject opposing information, contorting experience to fit preconceived notions. These firm beliefs of self twist interactions and limit growth. In order to gain from self-knowledge, we must include an asterisk with all discovered definitions, footnoting the limitations of words, and leaving room for a more complex unexplainable whole.
Deborah Luepnitz, in her wonderful book Schopenhauer's Porcupines, writes, “The point is not to go nameless, to refuse the question “Who am I?”, but to keep the conversation about identity going" (p. 184). Our enlightened discoveries of self are not definitive, all-encompassing explanations; but simply another clue to the great mystery of life.
We only successfully express wisdom when we accept limits to our understanding. Respecting the inadequacies of concepts (labels), opens our mind to continued gathering of knowledge that is less biased, free of faulty and rigid beliefs.
"The confirmation bias describes our underlying tendency to notice, focus on, and give greater credence to evidence that fits with our existing beliefs."
The Decision Lab
This open mindset prepares for not only a greater understanding of self, but also, for a greater understanding of others. We curb the divisive biases that create unpassable barriers and impede necessary conversations when we open to information that challenges our beliefs. Only then can we heal divides, escaping the narrow mindedness that currently prevails, continuously deepening the wounds with hate and suspicion.
We must cautiously examine our narrative. Identify simplified labels and check them for bias. Only then can we puncture the hard shell limiting growth, freeing our souls from living in blind ignorance of the greater complexities of the universe.
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Luepnitz, D. (2003). Schopenhauer's Porcupines: Intimacy And Its Dilemmas: Five Stories Of Psychotherapy. Basic Books. Read on Kindle Books