Confirmation


I suspect most if not all of us know about the notion that we tend to see what we expect to see, hear what we expect to hear and so on. The idea is that we tend to reframe our experiences to fit with our expectations. We may think that we are always objective but we aren’t.

For example, this is in part why two people can hear the same politician speak and go away with quite different impressions. One of us may think that the politician is a great person who speaks the truth and the other thinks he or she is corrupt and can’t be trusted. The tendency to see the world as conforming to our preconceptions is called “Confirmation Bias.” Let’s shorten that to “CB.”

CB reaches out in other ways when we aren’t expecting it. If we go out for the evening for an expensive meal at a fancy restaurant, we are likely to judge the food to be better than the fair at the corner diner, even if that is not objectively true as judged by experienced food critics. If we buy an expensive watch, we tend to think that it keeps better time than the clock on our microwave, despite that it isn’t true.

If our friends or reviewers tell us that a movie is not very good, we are apt to rate it lower than we rate it when no one has influenced us ahead of time. We tend to rate most anything higher when we experience the brand–name version compared to when we are given a generic or off–brand version.

Here is the point. Quite often and frequently unconsciously, our opinions, judgements and perspectives are shaped by other people, circumstances and past experiences and expectations that we are not aware of. CB is real and influences all of us at times. If you are feeling skeptical, consider star ratings that we see for products and experiences such as movies and restaurants. You know about star ratings such as 1 star up to 5 stars. The reality is that they are objectively not very reliable and are easily manipulated by groups and individuals who benefit from high or sometimes from low ratings. We know that they are at best just opinions and at worst statistical garbage. Even so, we still look at them and at least partially make our purchase decisions based on them. What you may not know is that we also base our satisfaction with the product, service or experience to some extent on those star ratings.

So far, CB is likely not that big of a deal. But a big deal it can quickly become. For the most part, those little external shoves and nudges from friends, star ratings, advertising, circumstances and our limited self awareness keep us from being fully objective and self–directing but generally don’t lead us too far astray.

CB becomes a much more serious issue when dealing with people, when dealing with new or novel situations, when objectivity matters. Unfortunately, it works like this.

Whenever we need to interact with someone, do something we haven’t done before, have a new experience, we are mostly incapable of being open minded, unable to approach the person or situation free from prejudging, without opinion or expectation. That by itself would not be all that much of a problem were it not for CB. Confirmation bias leads us to focus on and value everything that confirms the opinion or perspective we already have and ignore or devalue the importance of everything that conflicts or negates those opinions and perspectives. Take away our confirmation bias and we would make better choices, better decisions, and our judgment and actions would be more accurate, more appropriate. In short, we would be more likely to succeed and less likely to misread, misinterpret, less likely to screw up.

So what to do? Since we can’t totally avoid CB, we need to start by acknowledging that we are never completely open minded and objective. We just aren’t. That means that along with noticing and accepting whatever supports and confirms our expectation, we should also accept and value whatever is inconsistent with or contradicts those expectations. Let’s briefly consider a couple of examples.

When the Republicans encourage us to value secure borders, thriving big business and individual responsibility for personal health, safety and well being, they have a valid point. When the Democrats encourage us to value sanctuary, international cooperation and collective responsibility for personal life, liberty and happiness for all of us, they have a point. Most everything strongly believed by either side includes a large grain of truth and justice. Just as neither side is completely right, neither is completely wrong.

The principle also applies to people and relationships. For the most part, our friends, family members, coworkers, colleagues and neighbors are not without both positives and negatives, good qualities and tendencies that would test the patience of a saint. Until we can appreciate all aspects, we have no claim to objectivity or fairness.

Can any of us suspend our preconceptions, prior expectations and biases completely enough to justify seeing ourselves as objective? No, we likely cannot. Even so, I suspect we all – including me and you – can do more to recognize and better suppress the confirmation bias we all have every day with most people and in most situations. We can get in the habit of asking ourselves if we are misjudging, misinterpreting, mistaken, or perhaps just plain wrong about what we think, believe or expect. Will we thus become objective and more reasonable and appropriate? Probably not but we sure won’t get there if we don’t at least try.

Now you know so there you go.

BadDay


Bad Days:

“Don’t miss the chance to do good just because you are having a bad day.” When I heard this earlier today, it sent my mind in two directions. I wonder how often I do that. How often do I hold back or just not help because I’m having a bad day. Probably more often than I want to admit.

Perhaps even more telling is wondering where I would be today if people had always held back and not helped me just because they were having a bad day. Consider this.

I was eight or nine when I was trying to put the bridle on my pony. I was in a field at the edge of town and Tarzan was not being very cooperative. Instead of standing still and letting me put the bit in his mouth, he picked that time to jerk back and try to run away. I lost my balance and fell, somehow managing to have a stick poke into my leg. Since I could stick my finger into the resulting hole, even at that young age I knew that stitches were likely in my future.

I managed to walk to a nearby house and knocked. I asked the lady who came to the door if I could call or if she would call to get my mother to come and get me. Her response? “I don’t need this today. I don’t believe that you got a hole in your leg and even if I did, I’m not fooling with such nonsense today. You walked here so can walk yourself home.” I suspect that the most important point is that I still remember the incident all these years later. Her bad day turned into my limping walk home.

Like me, you too can probably think of a few times when someone could have helped but didn’t, just because they were having a bad day. What we tend not to remember are those times when someone did help, despite the bad day they were having. The fact of it is that we probably didn’t even know that they were having a bad day. They just helped and nothing was said or hinted at about their bad day.

There is nothing very complicated about this. We all get many opportunities to do good, to help. Sometimes we can follow through and help, we can contribute to the success of someone else and sometimes we can’t for various good reasons. My only point is that we should try to avoid using our bad day as an excuse not to help, not to do good.

Kid Spies:

What if I were to tell you that your location within one meter was being tracked while you are at work or perhaps while you are at most any public location? What if I further told you that there was no way for you to opt out of being tracked? Finally what if I told you that you were being tracked for your safety and for the safety of everyone around you? In addition, I offered no evidence to support the notion that this tracking actually made you or anyone else safer? Would you think the tracking was a good idea and something that you would welcome? I doubt that you would and neither would I.

As objectionable as such tracking would be for us, it is real and in place for many American children in our schools. These young people are being subjected to such tracking and are being conditioned from the age of five or six to see being tracked is normal and to be expected. For those children, the notion of personal privacy is being undermined and the idea of cameras and other technology being used to know where they are at all times is being normalized.

The tracking is managed by the radio signals from their cell phones; and if they don’t have a cell phone, they are required to wear a wrist band that serves the same purpose. Cameras supplement the radio signals. You don’t think anything like this is happening in schools in your community? You may be right, but then again, you may be wrong. The practice is present in many schools today and the number is increasing.

My only point is this. Unless you think that your being tracked with records of where you are and where you have been along with how long you were there is perfectly acceptable, subjecting children to the Kid Spies is not acceptable either.

WantToBeAFosterParent


            Being a foster parent can be a delightful and satisfying adventure and will definitely be a difficult challenge that requires your full attention and patience. Even so and if your heart is truly into the adventure, it can be wonderful for both you and your foster child. There are many aspects to being a foster parent; but for now, let’s think a while together about a few of the behavior and adjustment concerns that may develop while the child is with you.

Your foster child comes to your home with her strong points and special problems. It is hard for any child to adjust to a new family; but for your foster child, it is extra tough. If her past family experiences had been positive and healthy, being her foster parent would be fairly easy. Loving her and giving her a chance to live in your home would be enough. It is sad but true that love and a good home are not enough for her.

Your foster child is with you because she (or he) could not stay where she was. Maybe she was abused. She may have been neglected. There might have been other problems that made it impossible for her to stay with her family. Whatever happened, she was not safe, happy, and getting her needs met. She now has more problems than most children.

Learning about her special problems is your first step. You will love her, care about her, and encourage her. That’s just the way you are. At your home, she also can count on help with her problems, whatever they are. She will get what she needs, whatever it takes.

Let’s think about children who are abused and neglected. Abuse and neglect cause lifelong problems. Being mistreated hurts children in ways you can see and in ways you cannot see. They suffer at the time and will have problems at later life–stages. Although the harm done may not be easy to see, it is there.
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Here are some things that make it more likely a child will be abused or neglected. For each, think about why it makes abuse and neglect more likely.

For example, a child’s being under three–years–old makes abuse more likely.

Why would a baby be more likely to be abused than a twelve–year–old?

Another example may help. Child abuse is more likely in families where an adult abuses alcohol or drugs.

Why are children in homes where someone abuses alcohol or drugs more likely to be abused?

Here are some conditions that increase the likelihood of abuse or neglect. What’s your take on why these children have a higher risk of abuse and neglect?

• Child is under three–years–old.

• Child is hard to love.

• Child was abused before.

• Parent was abused as a child.

• Signs of abuse you can see such as bruises, burns, scars, broken bones, or broken teeth.

• Alcohol or drug abuse in the family.

• Child is aggressive or destructive.

• Child does not care if someone gets hurt or gets upset.

• Child is very cautious and uneasy around adults.

• Child gets almost no attention from parents.

• Parents are not consistent about what they expect from the child.

• Child is very withdrawn or quite passive around people.

• Child has a handicap or disability.

• Child is very hard to manage.

• There is a lot of family stress.

• People in the home are violent or hurting each other.

• Family is cut off from other people and does not have a support system or people who will help.
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Now that you have thought about things that make it more likely for a child to be abused or neglected, think next about those children who have already been abused or neglected. Here are some problems children have after they are abused or neglected. How do you think abuse and neglect cause these problems?

• Slow physical development.

• Slow development of language skills.

• Slow social and emotional development.

• Learning problems.

• Poor coordination.

• Problems getting along with other children.

Next, you can quickly check to see if your foster child is having significant behavior and adjustment problems. Here’s how.

Does the youngster seem to be getting along well or do you see behavior or other problems that concern you? Trust your good judgement and experience. Think about your foster child and answer Yes or No to these questions. The questions you answer “No” show you where the problems are.

Is your foster child:

1. In good health and not often ill?

2. Usually energetic and interested in what is going on in his or her world?

3. Normally relaxed and comfortable with him/herself?

4. Self–confident in most situations?

5. Eating regularly in normal amounts?

6. Staying away from alcohol or other drugs?

7. Happy and in a good mood most of the time?

8. Well–behaved most of the time?

9. Managing his or her anger and temper responsibly?

10. Feeling successful most of the time?

11. Responsible and dependable most of the time?

12. Dealing well with most day–to–day stresses and pressures?

13. Making and keeping friends his or her age?

14. Involved with friends who you know and approve of?

15. Going to school regularly?

16. Doing well in school?

17. Finishing homework and other assignments on time?

18. Cooperating with teachers and others at school?

19. Involved in school activities and projects?

20. Talking with you and other adults about his or her activities, friends, and problems?

Now that you have answered the questions, how do you decide if your foster child has problems that need extra help? If you answered Yes to each question, your foster child is doing fine. If not, the child’s problems need extra attention. Talk first with the child to see what he or she thinks and feels about the problems. Also, talk about the problems with the youngster’s caseworker, case manager, or doctor.

Foster children have the normal issues and difficulties most children have but also have additional risks that result from being abused and neglected. These issues are compounded by the children being removed from the home and family they have always known. Being placed in your home, the home of a stranger, only adds to their trauma. But if you are up to the challenge and opportunity, Their lives will improve and their futures will be much brighter, as will yours.

Good luck and thank you for caring, for making a difference, for assuring safety, permanence and long–term well–being for a child.

TheFriendshipSecret


A while back, my guide dog Rex and I were taking a break from our fall walk in the park near my house. It was one of those totally pleasant autumn days, a tad crisp but still comfortable enough to sit a spell at a picnic table toward the edge of the park, a “tweener” as we like to call them. An older gentleman surprised me by saying, “Hello.” I didn’t know I wasn’t sitting at the table alone. He talked some but I mostly just listened.

Truth to be told, the experience was a little weird. I think he was actually a guru who popped into and out of my life, leaving behind many questions but a good helping of wisdom. He shared the secret to perfect relationships. Since I included that tale in an earlier post, there’s no need to include it here. I only bring it up because I’m about to try my hand at some secret guru stuff and want to give credit to the gentleman who gave me the idea.

I surely am not up to the level of gurumanship exhibited by the gentleman in the park but if I keep working on it until I am as old as he, who knows? I figure even gurus have to start somewhere.

With your indulgence, I share the secret to what it means to be a good friend. I would like to say I have always been a good friend and have never erred when judging others as friends but alas, my record is not totally pristine. I too have erred and have learned. From those experiences and the wisdom passed along to me by others who traveled this way before me, I have gleaned the essence of friendship. I now share it with you.

Good Friends:

• Are consistent with us. They treat us more or less the same way whenever and wherever we see them. They are not on and off, do not run hot and cold.

• Are generally positive around us. They do not get in a snit over everything, are not especially moody, and are normally fun to be around.

• Share our values. They generally agree with us about what is and is not truly important, what is morally right and wrong, what is acceptable and unacceptable, and what really matters at a fundamental level.

• Are assertive with us. It is easy to tell what they are thinking, how they feel about most everything, what they want and do not want. They are up–front and seldom leave us guessing or trying to figure them out.

• Are not demanding or controlling with us. They do not try to boss us around or coerce us, and are neither manipulative nor duplicitous.

• Are compatible with us. The old saw is true, “We are judged by the company we keep.” Good friends are people by whom we are comfortable being judged.

• Are dependable. They keep their promises and commitments, are there for us when we need them, do not do or say things behind our backs, and can be trusted with knowledge of our personal lives.

• Are interested in us. They value knowing what we think and feel, what we like and dislike, what does and does not interest us, what we have been doing and prefer avoiding.

• Are a positive influence on us. Whether we are six or sixty, the people we spend time with influence who we are, how we behave, how we think about things, what we do, and what we come to believe and value. Good friends influence us in ways and in directions harmonious with whom we hope we are.

• Hang in there with us. We are not always at the top of our game, in a good mood, fun to be around, perfect examples of what a friend should be. Even so, good friends stick with us, cut us some slack now and then, accommodate to our quirks, and accept us as is, warts and all, as the saying goes.

Were I a full fledged guru and not merely a guru–in–training, I would likely have a pithy maxim capturing the essence of these friendship points. It would be memorable and axiomatic; but given my apprentice status, please let the points stand without summary or conclusion. I can but trust my gurumanship will improve in time.

WeGrowStrongOrWeGrowWeak


Consider this from Katharine Butler Hathaway, “If you let fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, then your life will be safe, expedient and thin.”

The implication here is that fear of consequence is pretty normal; so having some, or maybe even a lot, isn’t that much of a big deal. The big deal is having a life that is safe, expedient, and thin. What the problem with this actually is remains hidden; so you are simply expected to intuit it, it seems. The rub is that you have little faith in your abilities and less faith in your basic grasp or understanding of situations or circumstances. Since you don’t believe that you can trust your judgment or instinct, you don’t take a chance on yourself. You likewise don’t have much faith in your ability to anticipate or predict the behavior of other people. Your belief is that you cannot predict if a specific action of yours will lead to good or bad outcomes. Usually, you think the likely outcome of following your judgment will be bad. You don’t trust yourself and feel that any errors or mistakes you might make will likely be just another example of your screwing up. Given that reality, a life that is safe, expedient, and thin sounds like a reasonable alternative. There is a potential glitch in going with the safe alternative, though. Brooke Foss Westcott described it this way, “Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak, and at last some crisis shows us what we have become.” Fortunately, Eleanor Roosevelt suggested another alternative that you may want to consider. “I believe that anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do, provided he keeps doing them until he gets a record of successful experiences behind him.”

Sure, conquering fear sounds good in theory; but it’s certainly easier said than done. As you weigh your choices, Glenn Turner’s point deserves your attention, “Worrying is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” Ruth Gordon also joined the fear fighters, “Courage is like a muscle; it is strengthened by use;” and as you might have expected, the famous Anon. added a tidbit as well, “The mighty oak was once a little nut that stood its ground.”

Since the Fear vs. Safe debate can’t be resolved here, another thought or two will be enough for now. Haddon W. Robinson said, “What worries you, masters you;” and Roger Babson said, “If things go wrong, don’t go with them.” There you go. Do what you need to do, when you need to do it; and while you’re at it, adopt the Charlie Brown philosophy for fear management, “I’ve developed a new philosophy … I only dread one day at a time.”

Now you know so there you go.