Editor’s Note: While this lesson was originally published in December 2008, we feel it is still both relevant and appropriate today.
People only see what they are prepared to see.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
1803 – 1852
The recent presidential election in the United States was the most sharply divided on ideology that I can remember. It was relatively easy to find supporters and opponents who witnessed the same message from a candidate, yet came to totally different conclusions about the meaning and future impact of the message.
Both saw only validation of the beliefs they had already formed.
Now, this behavior isn’t limited to political races; we observe it every day: young, single women lamenting that all the good men are taken; businesspeople complaining about lack of opportunity; job seekers giving up because “there are no good jobs available.”
The more you become aware of the tendency to see only validation of already held beliefs, the more you see it happening all around you. Our brains are rather lazy; we tend to put things in categories and we like them to stay there. Once we’ve slotted an idea, concept or person into a category, we tend to automatically force those ideas, concepts or people to fit in that category, regardless of new evidence to the contrary.
Going back to the political candidates, it didn’t matter much what they said or didn’t say; people would force it to fit their already formed beliefs.
None of us are immune from this behavior; it’s hardwired into our brains, an automatic response. But the fact that it’s automatic doesn’t mean that we need to be blind to this tendency. This behavior can have serious consequences in our lives: we miss opportunities and we become close-minded to new possibilities. It’s self-limiting; it creates blind spots that keep our world much smaller than it need be.
So how do you overcome this habit of seeing only validation? The first step is to become aware of it. When you find yourself being pulled to only one conclusion, you should be aware that your ability to see other possibilities has been compromised. The stronger your emotional feelings are about any issue, the more likely you are to close your eyes to the other side of the issue.
We really need to become aware of our habit of putting things in categories. We must ask ourselves if there are other issues that we aren’t considering.
Seeing only validation is very dangerous. It can lead us to incorrect conclusions in all areas of our lives and our businesses.
Be open to different viewpoints. Be open to different possibilities.
None so blind as those that will not see.
1662 – 1714
Copyright © 2008 John Chancellor