confirmation bias and messaging

Several years ago Terry Goodkind introduced us to the wizards first rule: people will believe anything if they want to believe it or they are afraid it’s true. This rule explains a lot of modern marketing, news media and voter behavior. It just so happens that there is a principle in psychology that supports and explains the wizards first rule: confirmation bias. It means that people tend to accept information that fits what they already think and reject things that don’t fit. This is a problem that can turn ugly really fast, especially when you add a second factor.

One obvious second factor is profit motive. People will say things that benefit them, not just in money but in fame, sympathy, votes, likes, views or any thing else they see as valuable. Modern media and marketing types seek attention. There are a lot of folks out there looking to be watched, read, talked about and so on, and media and marketing people know how to get attention: sex, violence, conflict, bad behavior, ‘easy money’, and so on. Luke warm middle ground doesn’t get you anywhere, so they go for polarized views, especially when they can get opposing polarized views… they know that leads to conflict and bad behavior. Best of all, because they are showing what they call two opposing views they get to call themselves balanced.

This creates a nasty interaction; you have people that want to get gain by creating noise and distortion combined with people that are prone to accept what ever is said that sounds like it supports their side. Add to this the innate need of people to find ‘rational’ reasons for what they think and you have a whole new level of fact distortion. This is the kind of stuff that leads to imprisoning an entire group of people because ‘they might be spies’, civil wars and kids posing for pictures with severed heads (sorry folks all of those have actually happened and you can see the wizards first rule in each case).

How do we deal with this? One reaction is to punish ‘them’. I’m kind of wary of this. Actually, in many cases its exactly what the confirmation bias and distortion for profit leads to in the first place, and therefore what I want to avoid…

We can work on their hearts and minds, but that takes time. And how do you do it when you’re as blind as they are?

The first step, the thing that we need to teach ourselves before we try to teach anyone else anything, is to think critically. That is, we need to learn to gather actual information and use it to make informed decisions and not just go on emotion and what other people say. Knowledge is power and it’s more available than ever, but you have to learn how to use it, and use it wisely.

This will take effort, courage and faith (yes, you know, that believe in something stuff) but it’s the only way. You have the right and the ability to think and decide for your self. It is scary but it works.

And dear reader, remember you are not alone. There are good people in this world that want to do right and want you to do right, and there is a greater force for good in this world. I choose to call that force God, but like I said you have a right to think and decide for your self so you can decide for yourself on the existence of that force and what to call it.

Take care,

See you next week.


If you’re going to walk on thin ice…

There’s an old saying, “If you’re going to walk on thin ice you might as well dance. One interpretation of this is if you’re going to do something risky you might as well have fun doing it. Another would be, if you’re going to do something really do it. This seems to be my theme for the week.

Sure, other people and things may cause headaches and problems. Sure, there are things beyond our control. But, how many of our problems occur simply because we didn’t take the time to do what needs to be done?

This is a problem that touches on everything we do, writing, workshop projects, day jobs, even relationships. This week I was going over an E-publishing deal and the contract goes into specific detail about using the right tools to insert pictures and not just cutting and pasting. Why? The same reason my wife teaches professors to use their learning management system (lms) tools appropriately for on line classes, taking a couple seconds more to do it right can save hours of cleaning up junk code. Sure some people may get paid to do it, but as a writer I’m self employed; not taking a couple seconds costs me money!

It’s the same story as an artist or crafts person: some shop gorilla starts flipping switches before they really know what they’re doing and expensive equipment and chemicals pay the price. Usually these are simple fix things like taking a second to tighten a clamp or make sure you’re flipping the right switch on a power panel.

Not paying attention and being engaged in relationships is a never ending source of pain and drama. This one is especially fun because not only will your own inattention, rushing or lack of understanding come back to haunt you, but add in the siblings/in laws/etc and there’s no end to the drama possibilities (and some family and friends are only too happy to replay them for you).

The take home for today dear readers is to try to live “in the now” that’s not to say you shouldn’t take time to dream and plan for the future, just don’t try to do that and something that needs your attention right now.

Plan, dream, look to the future, but don’t do it at the cost of breaking things you didn’t mean to break here and now. Otherwise, your going to be fixing past mistakes instead of enjoying that future you were thinking/planning/dreaming about.

You can choose what you do. You can choose how you do things. Choosing your results is a bit harder. Lets choose to do well.


Thoughts on Heros (part 1)

I put “part 1” in the title of the post because this is a topic I know I’m coming back to…

I’ve been MIA for a couple weeks but it’s for a good cause. My would be post from two weeks ago is well on it’s way to being a magazine article, and last week I missed due to being out with a couple big gentle puppies finding shiny rocks…

Now then, lately I’ve been thinking about heroes. I don’t necessarily mean the guys who go running into a burning building (though they could fit in). I definitely don’t mean the one’s you see on TV with scantily clad women and explosions behind them while a voice over says things like “watch this weeks episode!”. I mean personal heroes, the ones that you look at and say, “I want to be like him/her”.

Hero’s large and small appear in every culture I’ve ever met, and unless you have lived your life completely alone (and if you did how are you reading this?) you have someone you’ve tried to emulate at some point. Heroes serve as inspiration, as a rallying point, a gleam of hope and/or a goal to shoot for. Heroes help us to see and describe what we want to be.

But there are dangers in dealing with heroes.People do become disenchanted, cynical and sometimes downright unpleasant because of  hero problems. Among these problems there are three that have been on my mind: the unattainable hero, the poorly chosen or false hero, and the fallen hero.

The unattainable hero is a mental trap that we inflict on ourselves. We choose a hero that we want to be like, but then we tell ourselves we can’t be like them. Classic example here: the person that chooses a superhero as a hero then says, “but I can’t fly/shoot energy bolts/turn invisible/what ever, so why even try?” Solution: take some time and evaluate why and how you want to emulate this hero. Is it really the super power, or is it maybe that they are brave, witty or just willing to stand for something?

If it’s the super power we have a choice, decide the power isn’t achievable and choose another hero to emulate, or we can learn and find a way to emulate that power.  Sure, most of us cant fly by putting on spandex and jumping into the air, but what about getting a pilot’s license? Invisibility? Camouflage (I’ve met some snipers that might as well be invisible (seriously!))!

If it’s the brave/strong/witty/willing to stand for something part…You can do that without super powers. It does take courage (and maybe a gym membership) but you can do it.

The poorly chosen or false hero is a “hero” who wasn’t what you thought he or she was. Many times these are the “heroes” that looked like the hero you want, or someone else told you you wanted but they really aren’t. There is a preventative solution here, this is going to be your hero, you can take some time to decide. You don’t have to buy into a hero right away. And if you decide the “hero” isn’t someone that’s a hero for you (even if you’ve already chosen to call them a hero) you can choose someone else. Your life, your choice, your hero; nobody can take that from you.

The fallen hero is a slightly different form of the false hero. They do, or at least did, have traits you want to emulate. But then it happens, they make a mistake and disgrace themselves, or you learn they are human and have faults. This situation can really hurt, but there are options. You could drop the hero and find a new one. This can be painful, but sometimes it’s the best way to go (if the part you find offensive is really problematic). But wait! The hero does, or did, have one or more traits you want to emulate, so consider the “hero with an asterisk” model. You don’t have to emulate all the traits of a hero, and you can have more than one hero.

I hold George S Patton as a hero, he was personally brave and his men would follow him anywhere, but I don’t have to swear like he did. I hold Poe as a hero, he was a great and creative writer, but that doesn’t mean I have to get drunk and die in the streets.

Well dear reader, that’s my thought for today. Have heroes, it’s a good thing, but make sure you take time to choose the heroes you want to be like and not just someone that someone else says is cool. Realize that you can have a variety of heroes and model different parts of you life on different heroes. And if you find a hero doesn’t fit anymore, they’re your heroes, you can change them.