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Vertrees: Being biased isn’t necessarily a bad thing

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: March 25, 2013 6:18AM



Anyone who does not have a serious bias is missing a lot of fun.

I don’t mean like a Gary councilman from many years back who said solemnly: “I am against gambling, vice and everything.” Bias is not a bad word. If we have opinions about anything, and most of us do, we are biased.

When I wrote opinion stuff at the paper, some readers said I was biased. That made me glad, because I had obviously made it clear that I had an opinion. When I reported on an important story, I tried to hide my bias, but probably did not always succeed.

Where do we get our biases? Well, some of us favor a political party. We think it is better than the others, because our parents told us so. You know, Satan is a bad guy because the Bible tells us so.

The tough thing about biases is that when we are asked to explain them, we sometimes can’t do it.

Sometimes our biases begin as little seedlings and grow into hardy beliefs that are as solid as oaks, unshakable. Sometimes, though, they fade away on the breeze of maturity and common sense.

I grew up on the farm hearing that our Elnora Owls were pure and the nearby Odon Bulldogs were bad, really bad. In basketball it was good against evil. Some of those Odon kids, we thought, were mean to their mothers, cheated on exams and were only marginally intelligent.

But when I matured enough for courtship and began to impress a girl from Odon, it all seemed unimportant. I helped beat the Bulldogs a couple of times, but it didn’t seem any more of a victorious crusade than whipping the nearby Epsom Salts.

The bias thing began to wear off, and some years back the Owls and Bulldogs were consolidated into a new, big school. Reality won that one. They all look alike. That surely is not a profound point about bias, but I learned a lesson: Real bias ought to have a point, a reason for being. It should not rest on a bouncing ball.

It is human nature to pick up bits and pieces of reality, and it is natural to create comfort zones of beliefs. If we are not careful, we begin to resent the intrusion of ideas that challenge us, and so the fun begins.

Political bias is the toughest kind to penetrate — we do not want to hear negative stuff about our side, or complimentary things about the other guys. The result is that even friends — believe it or not, I have some — often just don’t discuss religion, politics, the Cubs and other important subjects that affect our lives.

We need not shrink from our beliefs, but we should be able to explain them, and not be afraid to share them. But if we suffer from the common bias of shutting out opinions that clash with ours, we should go see a bias doctor.

As a kid, I created pictures in my head about right and wrong, about reality. It was a struggle, learning that we should not discredit messages just because we don’t like the messenger. Maybe we should get shots every fall, to help us reject the virulence of our unexplainable biases.

I probably need help before it is too late for me. Years ago, I overcame an inherited bias against the Odon Bulldogs. But my bias in favor of Methodist potlucks seems unshakable. They are supreme. I have not tested many others, but I just know this to be true because my papillae tell me so.



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