“When the sky’s falling, I take shelter under bullshit.”- Scott Lynch
Bullshit, is a commonly used expletive in the English language, a euphemism often said in response to something that is perceived as deceiving, misleading, disingenuous, or false. Generally, anything we perceive as nonsense can fall into the category. It’s one of those expressions that has become completely devoid of its original meaning, and on the cusp of being socially acceptable. Depending on who you are talking to, where you are, and a lot of other contextual things, a person may say the full word, or soften the blow by deferring to its initials, B.S., or by simply saying the word “Bull!” No matter how it’s used, we recognize it for what it is, a no-nonsense way of expressing our disbelief, unwillingness to be fooled, swindled, deceived, or cheated. Some of us are so proud of our lack of gullibility that we even claim to have a built in “bullshit meter,” that we refer to from time to time to protect us from others and outside factors that would otherwise take advantage of us.
Despite our sense of pride at being able to identify outside sources of B.S., most of us overlook the greatest threat to our B.S. meter: ourselves. All of us have preconceived notions about the world, others, ourselves, our abilities, government, politics, God, religion, medicine, and the meaning of life. These beliefs are shaped by actual and vicarious exposure to real and imagined events that have occurred, or may occur, over the course of our lifetime. Things that we are exposed to form the basis of our real B.S. meter: our Belief Systems.
We all have preconceived belief systems and we often think that we are not influenced by others. Most of us think this is how we have developed the healthy B.S. Meters that we believe we possess and because we believe this meter to be infallible, we dogmatically follow it, allowing it to shape our self image, establish our potential, create our view of the world, and direct all aspects of our lives. While in many respects, a healthy B. S. Meter can be a good thing, never questioning its results can lead to a life of disappointment and problems.
As humans, we have built in biases that we need to be aware of before we blindly accept the findings of our B. S. Meter. Some of these are uniquely our own, others are biases that all humans are susceptible to. Here are some examples:
Confirmation Bias-this is the tendency to search for, recall, or interpret information in a way that confirms a belief that you already have. Information is subconsciously gathered, arranged, processed, and interpreted with the goal of building evidence to support an existing position. This comes from overconfidence in personal beliefs already held, as a person desperately looks for evidence to support their viewpoint. It also serves a protective factor, as to give up a long-held existing belief can be very damaging to a person’s worldview and sense of themselves. Confirmation bias is often compared to and internal “yes man,” echoing back a person’s beliefs, reassuring them that they have been right all along. It’s likely to be strongest when dealing with fundamental issues of existence such as morals, politics, and religion.
Expectation Bias-this is the tendency in people to subconsciously create the reality that they expect. They act tentatively because they have a preconceived concept of what the outcome is going to be, setting themselves up to fail which, of course, they just “knew” they would. With the expectation bias, a person’s beliefs about their ability are so ingrained that they subconsciously create their own outcomes, receiving the very results they expect. They usually follow up with lines of thought such as:
⦁ “I knew that would happen.”
⦁ “This kind of stuff always happens to me.”
⦁ “See, I told you I couldn’t do it.”
Ingroup Bias-this is similar to confirmation bias, occurring within a group of like-minded individuals. In the 1970s it was commonly referred to as “Groupthink.” A group of individuals processes a belief or event collectively, feeding off each other and developing a common viewpoint. This viewpoint is perceived as being correct because others believe the same thing, and “That many people couldn’t be wrong.” Ingroup bias appeals to our logic, sense of community, and basic tribal instincts. It also tends to make us fearful, suspicious, and disdainful of other groups who do not share our beliefs, race, or nationality.
Negativity Bias-this is a human’s innate tendency to pay more attention to bad news than good. It’s hardwired in humans because it allo thewed the more cautious of our ancestors to survive, passing of on their genes on to their offspring. Those who were too optimistic had a greater tendency to be killed by animals, the elements, and natural disasters that they were not prepared for. Contemporary media caters to this tendency, creating more negativity, fear, and dread than at any time in history. The irony is that we are living in the safest time in the history of mankind, despite what most of us think.
Current Moment Bias-this occurs when a person assumes that they will act in the future with the logic of the present. For example, a person on a diet is going out to a restaurant with friends. They tell themselves that they’re “just going to have a small salad.” Of course, the meal starts with drinks, their resistance drops a little, and the result is a 2500 calorie meal. A person assumes that their courage of motivation and willpower will be there when they are in the heat of the moment, facing that very attractive menu. Current Moment Bias is a lot like junior high dance. You swear up and down you’re “just going to go, I’m not going to dance,” but before you know it you’re out there on that floor.
Questioning the findings of our built-in B.S. Meter from time to time is the only way of making any true change in any area of our lives. The first step in recalibrating this meter is to take a look at what you believe to be true about yourself, the world, and others. You may want to generate a list of some of these beliefs and then question them by offering alternatives. Ask yourself questions like:
⦁ How do I know this to be true?
⦁ Who says so?
⦁ Where is the evidence?
⦁ Could there be another explanation?
⦁ Where does my belief come from?
A well-adjusted and frequently re-calibrated B.S. Meter is one of the most important tools that anyone can have. Periodically checking its accuracy and keeping it in good operating condition can alleviate a lot of pain and suffering. Use it wisely.
“To recognize bullshit, nose is better than ear.”- Toba Beta
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