Thomasville Times Enterprise

March 19, 2014

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: We must check our compasses


— Yes, you too could land at the wrong airport!

Have you searched for an item and overlooked it as you went from shelf to shelf only to find it was right in front of you when you searched the first time? We are all prone to make this mistake. Psychologists call it “confirmation bias,” and it refers to the human tendency to seek that which affirms and blank out that which disapproves.

Recently, two very experienced airline captains and their copilots landed at wrong airports after becoming certain they were lined up at the correct ones. The rest of us, in the same circumstance, might have created the same mistake for ourselves (and our passengers) had we suffered their “confirmation biases,” becoming assured that we were just right to land due to the night visual cues that we unconsciously sought to confirm our initial belief that we were where we were supposed to be, relying on them, rather than the compass heading that clearly told us, “Don’t do it, Jack. This ain’t the place!”

In politics, we have the tendency to see what we want to see and disregard that which we don’t. As an example, most of us want peace and prosperity. However, if we are cued on what the opposition is spouting about the matter at hand, we tend to let that override what we think about it instead of giving it the critical thought it deserves. Also, in matters of race, one is reminded of a president’s statement when a Harvard area white policeman arrested a black professor (who was breaking into his own home) to the effect that the policeman was totally wrong, and also that in the matter of the Florida brown and black person altercation in which the black person died, that the black person must have been right (and the brown person wrong) because the black person was the same color as him, in effect showing “confirmation bias” in which he dismissed as unimportant all information but skin color.

When clear thinking is in order, each of us needs to ask ourselves what is important to achieve; and if it is to “land at the correct airport,” that is, the one that gives us and those who travel with us — friends, family, community country — the safe landing we should all be shooting for, then we must check all our instruments — most of all our compasses — discard the biases we have and touch down on the right runway. We are all responsible.

Jack Pope