We all notice, don’t we? The thing that wasn’t there before. The thing that isn’t but was. The thing that’s different from one image to the next. Heck, that’s a puzzle I loved to do as a kid! Find all 10!
Yes, if we’re paying even the slightest attention, we notice when something has changed, been moved, seems out of place or is acting strangely. That’s why airport security admonishes us, “If you see something, say something.”
The funny thing is, we were made for this. It’s a survival mechanism. Really. Our perceptors (my new word: receptors for perception) are designed to alert us when something might be dangerous. Did you know that your body responds more quickly and forcefully to a critter crawling UP your arm than to the one crawling DOWN? Yep. One is a threat to the jugular; the other may only nibble a finger or toe. No biggie.
So, given this design, it’s not surprising to find that something moving quickly in our peripheral vision draws our attention. Someone behaving oddly gets our gaze. Someone dressed distinctively gives us pause. Honestly, when something or someone is different, it is hard to look away — even when it’s impolite to stare.
I find it at least a little bit comforting to realize that it isn’t just my socio-cultural bias at play here: a good bit of this responsiveness is programmed in. I’m designed to notice different and be wary, AND I’m drawn to seek the similar because it brings me comfort. It’s our instinctive nature to distinguish among and between in order to seek safety, security and well-being. It’s the same for all the animals in the animal kingdom. Draw close; protect your own.
Today’s world, though, is demanding more of me and of us. It is calling us away from the basic animal in our nature toward what is unique to our human nature. Yes, we have biases — ingrained, learned and polished over years of practice. There’s no disputing: We do prefer this to that. We understand this and not that. We accept this and reject that. But our humanity has been dealt a brilliant extra card: a mind that can notice its bias and reject it.
It’s a small thing really, to catch myself in the act of assigning a story to someone I see but don’t know, whether it’s on the TV, in the news or in the parking lot at my local shopping center. I have discovered that I can nip that thought right in the bud, though. In fact, I’ve taken to giving myself a little swat on the thigh to say, “Stop that right there, you!” That’s what you’d hear if your earbuds were listening in to my brain. I trust you aren’t, but the Big Someone Else surely is.
So, I figure I ought to listen, as Lincoln put it, to the angels of my better nature. They’re telling me to: lead with forgiveness, err on the side of generosity, assume the best in the other — until further notice. Lotta grace flowing down that stream. Grace I don’t always even give myself. Got a lot to learn.
Ironic, the difference between what gets your attention and what you give your attention to. Every animal in the kingdom comes pre-programmed for survival. We humans have the capacity to discern, decide and re-direct. Thought by ever-loving thought.
Both teams were there. Both coaches. Lots and lots of parents. The only thing missing was the referee. No one wanted to reschedule this last game of the season, which didn’t determine anything in the standings. We just needed to get it played.
As it happened, there was a parent on each team who was certified as a referee. Both sides agreed to play the game under the officiation of these two dads and abide by the outcome. They each would take a half of the field. At half time, when the teams switched sides, the dads would stay: even exposure to both pairs of eyes, one half on offense, one half on defense.
Man, that dad from the other team, he was BLIND! He called everything against us. But our dad, he was exceedingly fair, giving their team every benefit of the doubt. Really. Not kidding. That’s the way I saw it. But actually, in the end, the fouls called were about the same. If they had been somewhat partial, it went both ways. Season over.
I discovered something that day: my eye bends what I see. If I have a team favorite or a preferred outcome, if I want things to go a particular way, if I want a certain team to win, I tend to see things that way. And think I’m right. In my spectating life, the foul is always on the other team. And even if you point out the transgression committed by my player, I am quick to argue: she pushed first, he was just defending himself, it was inadvertent…. Apparently, I am biased. I see things with my jersey color overlaid.
What a great lesson our sports experience teaches. If I’ve made up my mind what the outcome should be, I’ll see myself as right and act accordingly. Point out my error, and I will swiftly find ways of justifying myself. That doesn’t make me right; it just makes me feel right, and a bit indignant that you can’t see it my way.
Watching those two dad-refs do their best and then watching both teams shake their hands and thank them for the game, improved my vision. I suffer from competitive nearsightedness; I am biased when looking out for my own best interests. Life lived faithfully looks out for the interests of the other, even my opponents, to ensure that they haven’t been wronged.
Developing an unbiased perspective? That requires surrender in service to the game. It requires us actually to embrace and accept the wisdom of “may the best team win.” No, actually. And that’s not easy. It’s unnatural. Gonna take some time, and practice. Everybody gets better with practice.
As one who seeks to live a life which follows Christ, the evidence of my practice is a growing expression of the fruit of the Spirit in my life.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. ~ Galatians 5:22
Am I growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Are you? Are we?
If we’re not getting better, we’re not practicing.
We’re born discriminating, distinguishing, and differentiating because we’re born very, very near-sighted.
Our first job in life is to distinguish ourselves from the world. To determine what’s us and not them. This hand I see, the one that moved when I thought ‘move’, it moved! That hanging thing that flung when I thought the move and meant ‘fling’, I did that! That hand belongs to me!
But that face I see, that gets close, big and round and noisy, what is it? It doesn’t move when I think move. I can reach out and touch it, but it’s separate from me. It’s different from me. It’s not part of me. It’s not me.
Who am I? What am I? This is the objective of growth.
We learn to walk, in baby steps. Tipping, teetering, flailing, falling because we’re born very, very imbalanced.
Our second job in life is to move in our world. The challenge is keeping our balance. Footholds are unsure and pavement is uneven. Our eyes learn to distinguish what is taller, what is shorter. This is closer; that is further. Spatial discrimination allows us to judge where to put our foot, how long to stride, so we can gauge how far to go, and how far we’ve gone.
Where am I? How did I get here? This is the objective of movement.
We learn to run, faster, slower, modulating effort based on terrain and conditioning because we enter the race with very little sense of pace.
Our third job in life is to navigate in our world. Now with distance vision, we wonder…Where to go. What to take with us. How much to give. How much to take. What’s it worth to you? What’s it worth to me? If there is a cost, can I pay it? Can I absorb it? What’s the proper response? How do you react when I say this or do that?
Not only am I not you, but I don’t know you.
I’m different from you, distinct from you.
I don’t think like you do.
Don’t dress like you do.
Don’t worship like you do.
Didn’t know that about you.
Didn’t know that about me.
Whoa. Then who am I?
I’m sure not you.
That’s cool! Tell me about you.
Our fourth job in life is to find our place. Look what I can do! I prefer my right hand. I favor my left foot. My right eye is dominant, but I’m left-brained. When I fold my hands, I put my right thumb on top. Oh my gosh…you don’t?! I thought everybody did. What else can’t you do?
Can you roll your tongue? Can you whistle? Can you snap? Can you make the Vulcan sign, “Live long and proper.” Sure you can. It’s like this. Let me show you. But some really can’t. Whoa. If this is preferred over that, and he is favored over her, then which side am I on? Because there’s a winning side and I want to be on it.
The world takes over there. It rewards and punishes. It dichotomizes. It separates. And the bias we came with – our ability to differentiate, to distinguish self from not self, foreground from background, distant from nearby – what was intended for our growth, ambulation, and navigation, which were all meant for our distinction, is adulterated. It becomes our nature to use it for our advantage.
We are created human, propelled into being. When we take sides, we down-shift into doing. We throttle down, engine roaring, we sprint to the finish line, plowing through our fellow humans. Each of those has dreams, as we do. Each strains to hear that singular hushed voice which hopes.
But that’s not our voice.
Our voice has volume.
Our eyes are narrowed.
Our minds are focused.
On what we already know.
We look for confirmation of what we’ve already decided.
We listen for affirmation of what we already admire.
we are supporters.
we are fans.
we’ve taken sides.
Bias? Why yes. we were born with it.
Bias is natural, but it’s not terminal.
It need not be fatal.
Mind the gap.