I was at brunch a few weeks ago with my sweet, little 83 year-old grandmother.
My sweet, little grandmother who always seems to have delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven.
My sweet, little grandmother who cooks the best spaghetti sauce.
My sweet, little grandmother who makes racist comments so foul she’ll make your head spin.
Ah, my grandma. What a gem.
These days, there are a limited number of things I’ll willingly discuss with my grandma. When she tries to go off about Mexicans, Muslims or Democrats, I do my best to veer us back to the approved list of topics: prayer, family, and food.
She wasn’t always this way. At least, not publically. When Grandpa passed away, it was like the stopper in a bathtub was yanked out—and her will to maintain a level of appropriateness was drained. It’s only getting worse, too. Every time I see her she grows a little more offensive. A little more irrational. A little more paranoid.
To make matters worse, there’s absolutely no reasoning with her. If you try to correct her, she won’t listen or argue back. She’ll just look away with a tight jaw and frustration radiating from her eyeballs.
Which, of course, is worse. I’d rather she argue.
I was reminded of this after she tried to tell me that Fox News was “the most reliable, unbiased news source.”
I tried not to laugh. Really, I tried.
“Grandma, Fox News is an conservative source. They openly market themselves as such.”
She turned her head. It was no use.
Look, I’m not here to bash Fox, or tell you what you should or shouldn’t watch. I’m in no position to judge. Lord knows I watch Millionaire Matchmaker for hours on end. (That Patti, she’s fierce.) If that’s what you like, that’s what you like. I’m glad for you.
But, I also believe that we do ourselves a disservice when we pretend bias doesn’t exist. Actually, I think bias can be a really greatthing—which is why I think we need to stop treating it like Lord Voldermort or a bastard child. Unspeakable.
Because, here’s the thing: bias doesn’t come out of nowhere. It develops as a result of our interaction with the world. It’s the compilation of our stories and experiences. Naturally, that means your race, your financial standing, the neighborhood you grew up in, the type of parents you had, the school you went to, etc.—all of these play a role in your worldview. Bias is intimately woven with your identity.
That’s gosh damn beautiful.
So, when we pretend to be unbiased about a particular topic, we’re stunting our ability to make a strong case. We’re leaving out a whole host of important background information that influences the way we think and feel. Information that matters.
Lately, when someone asks for my position on something I’ll start with, “I lean towards liberal on this topic, because…” Then I follow up with the parts of my life that have shaped my perception. The fact that I’m bi-racial. The humanitarian work I’ve participated in. The low, low number in my bank account. My experience growing up in an affluent part of Southern California.
My opinions didn’t appear out of thin air.
I know better than to believe my worldview is objective.
Therefore, it’s important to embrace the reasons why I believe that which I believe.
I’ll be honest with you. Thinking this way stinks. (And you’ve already read this far, so there’s no turning back. I’ve already ruined you. SUCKER.)
It’s really, really hard. It’s hard because, when I meet people with opposing opinions, I can’t just write them off as wrong. I have to consider the fact that they have also had life experiences that have shaped them. Their experience isn’t wrong. It’s different.
But wait! There’s more.
There is an upside.
Remember when we were kids? Life on the playground was rough. It was only a matter of time before one kid called another kid a “doo-doo head.” Then someone threw sand in someone else’s eyes. Before you knew it, knees were scraped. There were tears. Lots of tears and blood-curdling screams.
Sooner or later a grown-up would pull the mangled bodies apart, wipe the snot from our noses, and ask for an explanation.
And everyone would start talking at once, gradually raising their voices in unison, attempting to drown out the other voices. Until, of course, said-adult’s eyes would roll back into their head, merely trying to survive this living hell.
Eventually, we’d all be silenced and Adult would make us take turns sharing our side. The rest of us would have to sit in the tension, where frustration and embarrassment meet, and listen.
These life experiences are wasted on the young. Can I get an amen?
We spend years instilling these values in children, which we then immediately punt in adulthood. When you grow up, you can point fingers and call people names with almost no repercussions. You can pick all the fights you wants. Just look at Congress. I’ve seen third graders fight with more dignity.
Nobody puts a stop to it. We just join a side and start warming up our pointer fingers.
Silly, ain’t it?
Which is precisely why we have such a hard time developing solutions for our world’s problems. It’s not just that we can’t compromise. It’s because we spend more time blaming, without a sliver of willingness to consider the other side of the story.
If we did some emotional digging, I think we’d find fear. This kind of behavior is almost always rooted in fear. We might find that things aren’t as simple, or squeaky clean, or pretty as we wish they were. We might find that someone—perhaps someone we don’t particularly like—has truths we’d rather avoid. We might find, actually, that we’re wrong–that our worldview hasn’t exposed us to all the facts. Maybe we’ll discover our understanding is limited.
Facing that is scary.
But consider the alternative: a continuation of our same old dysfunctional patterns. Eek. If we maintain these patterns, I worry about our future. I worry about our country, about the world. I worry about the kind of place my friend’s kids will live in. It all stresses me out a lot.
So, if for no other reason, do it for the sake of my blood pressure. Next time you find yourself tempted to jump to conclusions, to write off someone else’s opinion, to bark names at about you “enemy”—stop. Stop and consider my heart health. Help me prevent a stroke by listening to the other side first. If you choose not to, please consider at least creating a trust fund to cover my medical expenses.
I can’t say it enough: we need each other. We need each other. We need each other.
There is a reason why the Trinity exists, why Jesus had a diverse crew of disciples, and why Michael Scott tried so hard to create unity in Scranton. We need each other.
When we forget this simple truth, we put ourselves in a world of frustration.