Simplistic Views; Harsh Judgments
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 2017 (edited 2019)
We see the world through bias. Strong bias narrows views and blocks openness.
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 the 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 the biased simplified judgments that color our world with broad strokes.
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There’s evolutionary value to generalizing data. With the slightest prick, we change directions, get a shot of adrenaline, and strengthen our body with the flow of additional oxygenated blood—we are prepared to combat danger. Our body responds immediately—even to faulty misinterpretations of danger. Our system activates the same to a robber with ill intent or a harmless shadow. We emotionally interpret events as good or bad based on small slivers of evidence. Some interpretations are biological; some are from learning; but most are a blend.
We acknowledge complexity but emotionally react with biased simplified judgments, coloring the world with broad strokes.
Consciousness attention to emotions allows us to better process complexity. Aware of the experience of an emotions and the triggering events helps us identify when an internal response is not appropriately matched to the igniting event. Mindful attention invites inspection of the complexity behind experience—the influence of many events on the culminating felt experience.
Mindfulness doesn’t necessarily create peace. When we recognize the many uncertainties, our vulnerability strikes fear and induces anxiety. We may not notice the feeling at first; but the unknowns creep into the present moment, stirring anxiousness. The anxiety disrupts our peace by demanding attention to possible threats. Attending to anxiety by directing focus to possible threats allows us to adjust, avoiding some hardships. However, many fears are unrealistic, inducing needless worrying about events that may never occur.
Over-simplifying beliefs to clear identifiable causes calms our fears. This is an adaptation to ease the worries of living. These limited views speeds action, suppressing lengthy cognitions and evaluations. We react quickly and habitually. The trade-off is curtailed creativeness. We blindly miss the voids in our interpretations. We sacrifice understanding for the speed of biased thinking.
Labeling people as “good guys” or “bad guys” saves mental effort; every conflict quickly shuffles the players into simplified slots, identifying and punishing the bad guy (or gal). This archaic view creates divisions, hate and injustices. Our internal-justice system struggles with evidence suggesting more complex causes to our misery.
As often argued in the legal halls of justice, a person is not culpable because of a neglected childhood, or a junk food habit (the Twinkies defense), or even affluenza. With words, shifty lawyers point to one of many causes behind an action and boisterously claim that the cause was outside of their client’s control—they are an innocent victim of circumstances.
Causes will always be complex, including many influencing elements, many beyond our capacity to identify. An odd mix of development and timing combine to create addictions, fears, and destructive habits. Life conflicts with the simple labels of good and bad. We must search for greater complexity in our assessments and widen our view. When encountering discomforting behaviors of a spouse, friend, or child, we must step away from simplistic labels. The judging errors that condemn others for shortcomings and their poor decisions encourages self-righteous, harsh responses that harm important relationships.
We must identify and challenge categorical thinking to escape the biological drives for speedy assessments. All of us are guilty—manipulators of facts. Being aware of our faulty thinking weakens the power behind biased thoughts. We slow down, invite new cognitions, scrutinizing the simple answers and demanding deeper understanding.
True security doesn’t come from a simple predictable world but through the acceptance of complexity. By accepting complexity, we develop inner and outer resources capable of meeting the demands. Our self-confidence in our ability to face the challenges grows with each victory. We realize the good in many people, increasing our connections. The world is less crowded when we can live without constant protective adaptations crowding out healthy engagement with others. No longer are we ruled by harsh judgments, punishing any who fail to follow our simplistic mindsets. We our free to roam, flourish and frolic in the surrounding joys.