My Awefull Life » A Pilgrimage of Wonder

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When Grief Baits Bias

Confirmation Bias, echo chamber, gaslighting, Dunning-Kruger effect, logical fallacy- these are a handful of the phrases currently heard around our house at a growing rate. About once a day I will wander into my husband’s home office, baffled by the latest conspiracy or headline and broken by the people who are lining up to buy in. And by baffled I mean I either burst into tears or start yelling, because I simply CANNOT UNDERSTAND. It defies logic, and it completely breaks my heart. As Rob attempts to comfort or calm me (or just get me off his office floor), we dialogue, we sort through, we watch the viral videos and we read – so.much.reading. I am grateful for the conversation, often the debate (spoiler alert: my husband and I don’t always agree), and mostly the safety to be unsure or even wrong yet still wanted. 

At one particularly low social media moment last week, I was talking to God and really asking Him to help me keep my mouth shut. I was disappointed in some people, angered by others, and could feel the rush of emotion pushing me to comment, to call out – subsequently jumping right into the mud with the rest of the collective internet. It was in that place, inside that prayer for a Holy Spirit muzzle, when my perspective shifted just enough to see a bit of the “why,” and catch a glimpse of understanding as to how we seem to have lost ourselves. 

Grief. The glimpse was of grief. 

If you have ever walked with someone who was grieving, you may recall a time when their pain manifested in some challenging behavior(s). Maybe they have been short tempered, or low-filtered and say things without thinking. Maybe they are distant or cold, impulsive or intense. But you, from the outside of the grief cycle, can see they are hurting and so grace is most often extended. Empathy bridges the gap between each stage of their grief back to you again. We cover each other when one another is hurting. So then what happens when a large portion of the population suddenly finds itself in a pandemic-induced cycle of grief? How do we offer mercy for the misbehaving when our collective baseline of pain has been obliterated seemingly overnight? Who can be expected to keep watch and cover for the traumatized, when we are all experiencing a certain level of mourning? It is said all the time, hurt people hurt people. Friends, we are currently a world full of hurting people; And unchecked, we will become a world filled with people imposing harm on other people. Our weapons will be our anger, our confusion, our fear, our wayward words: Our Grief. 

One of the hardest wrestles for me personally has been watching so many leaders, people in a position of authority, use their platforms to dispense information/views counter to the integrity and character that aided them in being given their role to begin with. When a person of influence- which incidentally we all are in some fashion- can lead an audience, a facebook feed, a congregation, into a grief-driven biased news cycle? And we the people blindly follow, perpetuating the message, no questions asked, no facts checked, no deep breaths or pauses? Well, cue bursts of tears and disillusioned slumps into my husband’s chest. 

I have been thinking about Moses from the Old Testament a lot. In the book of Numbers, there is an event where Moses disobeys God by striking a rock for water instead of simply speaking to it as God instructed. His outburst was on display for the people he was responsible for leading. And yes, I imagine Moses was weary and thirsty- wandering around a desert for forty years with a bunch of complaining, rebellious people was probably not always a delightful assignment. And yet this man God used to confront an Egyptian pharaoh, walk the Israelites across a sea split straight open, a man who faithfully led an often faithless people, banged on a rock from a place of unchecked emotion. And the people stood witness. While in the end God was merciful and forgiving, Moses did not walk away without severe consequence for his actions. He was an ambassador, a representative, who in a moment misrepresented his Lord. 

Reactions carry consequences. Unacknowledged or unaddressed grief will show itself in destructive ways, and unchecked long enough the collateral damage will be dense. Leadership is a heavy, heavy burden. And we are all leaders in some capacity. As a person of faith, I live by the creed the Apostle Paul penned, “follow me as I follow Jesus.” So then how can the world reconcile one’s profession of faith if it is accompanied by a meme mocking those who choose to wear a protective mask to the grocery store? How is one helping people see Jesus by sharing an article or video slandering our public health officials? The words we choose to offer, the causes or conspiracies we distribute on a public forum, matter. I absolutely find great value in healthy discussion and debate- with the appropriate audience. Again, following the lead of Jesus and his approach to communication is often helpful for me to reference back to. There were messages Jesus spoke to the masses and others he saved for those few who walked with him in daily life. What communication of mine is productive and edifying on a larger scale, and what opinions or thoughts are better saved for my inner circle? My husband, my pastor, a few close friends, the Holy Spirit – these are the spaces where I may react or reveal a bias, but because I am known well outside of my grief, I am safe to wrestle through the uncertainty.

So what does grief have to do with logical fallacies and confirmation bias? 

graphic via James Clear

“Confirmation bias refers to our tendency to search for and favor information that confirms our beliefs while simultaneously ignoring or devaluing information that contradicts our beliefs.” – James Clear

How is grief fueling my bias?

How is grief fueling your bias?

Let’s remember, grief doesn’t only mean being sad. So, I’ll ask again.

How is grief influencing your bias? How is your disappointment over canceled graduations, proms, vacations, influencing your bias? How is fear over lost income, no cure, no groceries on store shelves, influencing your bias? How is isolation or boredom or anxiety, fueling your bias? What article, headline, expert, am I latching on to because it favors a belief I already have? What facts am I choosing to ignore because I am hurting and just want someone to be the bad guy? 

In a time of great human distress, we are grasping for control, solutions, someone or thing to blame. How are we wielding our grief experience? Is it a refining tool or a weapon in an arsenal against anyone who dares to challenge my position? This particular snapshot of time has shown me in new ways just how absolutely intolerable our culture finds uncertainty and grief. We have become so conditioned to have an instant solution- an answer to any and every problem- because the inconvenience and discomfort of uncertainty is simply unbearable to us. While we may post the occasional pretty hand-lettered graphic reminding us we are all walking out our own battles, by and large I see a culture so uneasy with trauma and grief we go to great lengths keeping our internal selves under armor by way of filters and highlight reel captions.

Please, let’s wake up to the uncomfortable reality that we may be struggling through our days. Attempting to carry the burden of our rage, fear, loneliness or disillusionment, while maintaining some level of basic human functioning and composure is a tall ask. Let us be brave enough to ask of one another, and give honest assessments in turn. 

One small way we are attempting to check in on each other at our house is a daily internal battery check, inspired by a tool Brené Brown uses in her family, called the Gap Plan. Our kitchen letterboard is currently serving as the family battery chart. I am trying to teach my kids to be awake to what is happening internally and how it impacts their outward selves. I am trying to train myself to be as honest as possible about what root emotion is propelling my actions and/or words. And I am trying to dialogue daily with my people so when one or more members of the family are running low, those who have more reserve can fill the gap by way of grace and empathy. 

To paraphrase one of my favorite memes of quarantine, this season on the internet has been absolute hot dog water. I am truly sorry being a human is so difficult right now. I am sorry for the weight our leaders are attempting to carry. I pray our politicians, health-care professionals, pastors, teachers, and parents all feel Jesus near. I pray we all can take a collective breath before reacting publicly to those topics that bait our bias. I pray we have dialogue and debate in proper forums- around a dinner table, a fire pit, a park bench, to name a few. For those in the back, Facebook does not qualify as a productive forum. Our grieving world is watching. 

Finally I pray the God of all creation may bless us and keep us; may He make His face shine upon us and be gracious to us; May the Lord look upon us and shower us in peace. (Number 6:24-26)