Bias and judgement are powerful tools, we should stop avoiding them.

Bias and judgement are powerful tools, we should stop avoiding them.
Photo by Wesley Tingey / Unsplash

We've all had a bad first impression. Whether someone commits a simple social faux pas or does something to seriously offend; we're constantly judging everyone. In fact, despite years of telling yourself you aren't judgmental, you totally are.. and that's a good thing!

Full disclosure, I am just as guilty of this as anyone else. I don't purport to be someone who is judgment free, nor would I recommend even striving to be. There is a major difference between being a bigot and using your brain to avoid troublesome people, dangerous situations, and time wasters.

Most people seem to have an aversion to acknowledging just how important it is to be judgmental but let's unpack this concept a little bit, shall we?

Bias is defined as, "prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair."

The bolded text on the word 'usually' is mine.

Experience and our senses should be the ultimate arbiter of how we act. If you saw a pot on the stove that had no water in it and steam coming off of it, you'd use your judgement to determine that you shouldn't touch it with your bare hands. Similar heuristic devices are how we decide if a dog is friendly or dangerous.

The reason I bring this up is because lately I've noticed a trend where people online start dog piling on someone simply because they had a gut reaction to a person/place/object based solely on appearances.

For example, this reddit post from the ever popular subreddit, "Am I The Asshole"

My friend recently moved from our rural town in Arkansas to the Bronx in NYC. I was going to go visit over the last week and made the mistake of reading local news beforehand. There's been a rash of seemingly random acts of violence, with subway riders even getting pushed or sucker punched onto the tracks. I told him I would go but I wanted to avoid the subway and homeless people in particular. My friend told me I was being 'classist' and an 'anti-urbanite' and not to come.

This was met with comments ranging from, "you are a trash bigot" to much, much worse.

Now am I arguing that the OP was correct in wanting to avoid ALL subways and ALL homeless? No! However I am saying that these types of biases are natural and do serve a purpose. Getting donkey-punched in front of a moving train WILL ruin your vacation and does nothing to solve homelessness.

So what should we do when someone we care about presents a bias that we don't agree with?

First, determine if that person is, in fact, a bigot. Some signs will include unqualified generalizations like:

  • All of X group do Y thing
  • I hate X group
  • You can never trust a damned X group.
  • I can tell just by their skincolor that Y

If they say things like that, you can pretty much assume that there's not an underlying logic to what they're saying. They just hate something because they hate it.

Now if they have some decent qualifications like this:

  • I like dogs but I'm afraid of pitbulls
  • I'd love to visit but let's avoid driving at night on Friday because of the risk of drunk drivers
  • The guy with the confederate flag? Yeah let's not sit near him.
  • No way am I going to ask the guy with a full on "I kill people" forehead tattoo for directions! He might kill people!!

Those are all reasonable biases. Statistically you are much more likely to get bit by a pitbull than other dog breeds, get killed by a drunk on a Friday night, or end up talking to a racist flaunting the stars and bars.

So don't let your intolerance of bias turn you into an anti-bias bigot! Sometimes they make sense.

The most important piece here is this general rule of thumb:

Someone is being a bigot if they have bias against someone for something that cannot be changed, like skin color, gender, or orientation.

They are NOT being a bigot if they have bias against something someone chooses to do, like wear gang colors or start selling essential oils.

A note from ViewSink editor, Gardiner Bryant:
I'm pleased to welcome Karl Martel Chocensky as a regular columnist here on the site. I'm confident his incisive wit and unique perspective on the world will add enormous value to ViewSink. Be sure to let him know your thoughts in the comments below and I hope you enjoyed his first article.