• joe@jhanderson.biz   
    (206) 351-5607   

  • The cognitive biases we carry with as part of our mental equipment are certainly inconvenient. It calls into question one of the aspects of our experience we are generally most proud of: the quality of our thinking. It’s not surprising that your thought-stream really thinks highly of…your thought-stream. That’s why words like “honesty” (which presumes that we could ever be dishonest) and “humility” (which presumes that we might have something to be humble about) are rarely trending on Google.

    But these old-fashioned words are powerful antidotes to cognitive bias. They don’t attempt to take on the entire list of 180 biases that Wikipedia lists. Instead, they are shortcut techniques to develop the habit of pausing and noticing “what am I actually thinking and saying right now? What do I actually know?”

    Let’s define honesty as “respect for the truth”. Part of that respect is recognizing that everyone brings bias to their judgments and decisions. Claims of honesty that don’t acknowledge the built-in human tendency to skew the truth for individual purposes are delusional at best. A truly respectful honesty means you seek out the truth as carefully and thoroughly as you can, doing your best to avoid jumping to conclusions.

    And humility—the knowledge that, no matter how good your intentions, you will miss important things—is the logical companion of honesty: “knowing that you don’t know”. In combination, the two amount to an attitude something like: “I have every intention of finding out and speaking from the truth of this situation, and I’m fully aware that despite my intention there are important gaps in my understanding.”

    Try It: Consider an assumption you made recently that proved to be incorrect. What might you have done to show more respect for the truth? Gathered more data? Had another conversation? Examined your assumptions more carefully? Consider how you acted on your assumption in ways that might have proved harmful or unproductive. What might you have done in that circumstance to think and act with a more humble, curious, and inquisitive attitude?

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