Friday, September 19, 2008

Bias Tips the Scales

I started Bible Quizzing when I was 14. Somewhere in my early 20's I switched from quizzer to coach and quizmaster. The quizmaster is the person who asks the questions that the three teams jump on. He or she also makes judgment calls. Questions are constructed word for word out of the scripture like so:

Q: When did God speak to our forefathers through the prophets?

A: In the past

However, answers do not have to be word perfect, so there is often debate as to what constitutes a right or a wrong answer. Quizzers have the opportunity to debate these nuances with the quizmaster - to defend or contest a given answer.

Looking back, it is interesting to me that when I was a quizzer, most issues were black and white. Quizmasters were, from my perspective, either dead on or out of their minds on particular judgments. Good calls were the ones that I agreed with, bad calls were those with which I did not. The personal convenience of that pattern never occurred to me. I was often puzzled by quizmasters who spent so much time considering a ruling on something that was OBVIOUSLY so clear.

My perspective changed once I started quizmastering. I spent time weighing out the various arguments. I could often give a measure of validation to both sides of the debate. Sometimes I would have to throw a question out because I felt I could not make a fair call otherwise. At that point, the captains of the opposing teams would often roll their eyes... convinced that I could not be more wrong.

What had happened to the certainty I had as a quizzer? Where had the clarity gone?

It went away with my biases. Now that I was no longer advancing or defending a position, I had lost my vested interest. Being on a "side" created a natural imbalance in my mental scales... something that is difficult to recognize while you are on a side.

This makes me wonder where else in my life I see clarity where there is none. Where else do my vested interests push the scale to an outcome that does not exist for someone outside the equation? Through experience I have learned to recognize some of my biases and I try to compensate for them; but how many lurk beneath the surface, silently altering my view to create something that is not completely accurate?

I thought this video of the varying commentary on Michelle Obama's convention speech is a good example of biases coloring the view of the same occurrence.


Steve H. said...


Very transparent post. It reminds me of when I first started pastoring my own church. After a few months the pastor who had planted us out asked how I was doing.

I said, "You know John, when I was an elder under you I knew everything. I knew when you had spoken too long, or not long enough. I knew when the worship needed to be shorter, or when prayer had been allowed to go on to long. I knew what we needed more of, less of, and what would make this a great church. When I planted out and was now in your position, its like someone put blinders on me and I have no idea"

I realized sitting in the cheap seats gives you a panoramic view.

Sherry said...

Timing is interesting.

We have been “arguing” through our biases ever since the reformation.

My husband is reading “Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution--A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First” by Alister McGrath.

A dangerous idea because ordinary Christians, as opposed to any centralized religious authority, could and should read the Bible for ourselves in our own language, and draw our own conclusions from it

I think it is remarkable how each of us comes to and lives out a vision. I think we do this through our own experiences of faith and our own experiences of transformation.

Andy said...

We do have bias on things like art, food, and even politics. The problem is when we subjugate "truth" to those same biases.

What I find is even more interesting is that you are still very biased despite the "change" in your life your bias just leans you to another side now so you think you are more neutral. The mind game is completely yours to contend with. As I said before on another blog, the only thing you have done is changed your view which does not mean that you have somehow become more "relevant" or "correct" in your thinking, in fact it may be the exact opposite.

Brook said...

"sitting in the cheap seats gives you a panoramic view"

Now THAT's a great quote, Steve!

Andrew said...

Heh! I concur with Brook on that one! Is that yours? Cause I'll be using that one!

That was a good example too Steve, what is interesting is in how many different circumstances I have re-learned that lesson. I think one can learn a fair amount vicariously, but there is something about that tactile, contrasting bit of experience that digs deep and leaves you different. We build up a tower of fortified opinion... and God tips it over using an instance of practical experience.

Sherry - I'll have to check out that book. I've been reading up on Christian history and am surprised (and not) about how cyclical all of this is. It is weird to read about 1st century Christians who were wrestling though the same stuff I am now.

Steve H. said...

That quote is mostly mine. In "The American President" Michael Douglas ask Martin Sheen if he is enjoying his input from the cheap seats. After thinking about it, I added the "Cheap seats give you a panoramic view"

It is a good quote isn't it :)

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