The Side of the Road
I have at long last returned to the crossroads
to listen once again to voices I long to hear.
I vow this time not to wander from this path
until the words of true wisdom finally appear.
Sit with me a while by the side of the road.
Rest your back and let your senses expand.
Breathe deeply the fragrant flowers of life.
Trace spring with the soft touch of your hand.
Let’s treasure the giver instead of the gift.
Let’s honor his life by looking into his eyes.
Let’s taste the sweet fruits of the Spirit.
Let’s enjoy this precious moment before it dies.
Talk with me while there are still words to say,
while these ears can still hear and comprehend.
Tell me the meaning of living rather than life.
Dig deeper for words that unlock and transcend.
As follow-up to the big lie, let’s examine the obvious question – how can we tell what is true and what is not? When we have to make important decisions, decisions that can shape our lives and influence the lives of others, we need to focus on truths and facts and try to eliminate emotion-based decisions. There is something in my college introductory psychology course that I teach that I think might be helpful. I have identified four obstacles to logical thinking that may account for the persistence of faulty beliefs. Let’s see how these obstacles may apply to our beliefs concerning the Covid 19 epidemic.
The belief-bias effect occurs when we accept only the evidence that conforms to our beliefs, rejecting or ignoring any evidence that does not. Our beliefs are our mind states we create to deal with threats and fears. Therefore, when we look at the collapsing economy, it activates the fear that we will not be able to support ourselves and our families. This fear may cause us to reject the information that is coming to us on the severity of the pandemic. We then seek information that will alleviate those fears and give us a false sense of security. The fake news that there is no real pandemic and that this is some kind of conspiracy may strike a chord with us. Therefore, we act accordingly and refuse to wear masks, keep social distancing, and decide to go visit grandma and grandpa at Christmas even though the science tells us that we may potentially be risking their lives.
Confirmation bias is the strong tendency to search for information or evidence that confirms our beliefs while making little or no effort to search for information that might disprove them (Gilovich, 1997; Masnick & Zimmerman, 2009). We have a tendency to believe what we want to believe and seek out information to support those beliefs. Nowhere is that more evident than those of us who seek out information outlets like Fox News or search for blogs and articles in Google that tell us all the things that could go wrong with the vaccines. There seems to be the need to seek others in social media who will support our views and to whom we can share our opinions thus reinforcing them. Misery does indeed like company.
The fallacy of positive instances is the tendency to remember uncommon events that confirm our beliefs and ignore events that contradict them. A perfect example of this is the information that someone in England and another in Alaska suffered severe side effects from the vaccine. This may be taken as proof that vaccines are indeed dangerous and should be avoided. No one died. In fact, statistics show that approximately only one in 750,000 people will experience a severe reaction. In the meantime we ignore the fact that small pox and polio have virtually been eliminated through the use of vaccines.
The tendency to overestimate the rarity of events is referred to as the overestimation effect. The observation that the majority of people have had little or no symptoms or have recovered quickly without any serious side effects, may lead us to believe that this is not really a serious disease and is just a common flu and therefore should be allowed to just run its course. In the process we tend to ignore or question the data about all those who have died or suffered long term life threatening illness.
In order to overcome these biases we have to engage in critical thinking. It is important to keep an open mind. It is important to choose ways to gather and think about evidence that will help us avoid unwarranted beliefs and self-deception. We are not just individuals; we are a community. What we believe and how we act does matter. So let’s at least try to get it right.