Loving God and People: Exploring Perception and Bias
The heart of Christianity is about revealing the love of the Father to all of His children/ peoples of the world. Through this revealing of love an invitation is delivered to the hearts and souls of those who have received this love to reconnect with God the Father through His Son Yeshua the Christ. While this task, which has been given to all Christians, may seem simple and straightforward, it is far from an easy thing to accomplish according to human intellect. Add to this all of the filters and biases that cause each person to experience life uniquely regardless of geography, time period, or socioeconomic class, the simple task of loving God and people becomes a challenge, or maybe even a dare. Now for some people, it seems to come naturally especially to children when they are so innocent and unprogrammed. For many of us, we can remember a time when opening up and pouring our love out through service, relationships, and giving was not so difficult – we had our “tough moments” but usually would be able to press through. And then there are some of us, who know what it is like to be on the totally opposite end of that spectrum when skepticism and apathy have taken hold and giving love, or receiving it for that matter, all seems like a twisted joke.
Why is it so difficult for some people and much easier for others? In all honesty, there is really no real cut and dry answer to that question, however, for the sake of this blog post, we will be exploring and relating how perception biases and programming affect how people relate to each other, and how love these biases and programming can cause love to be expressed or withheld.
A quote from Maya Angelou that often used to encourage people to be kinder and more loving is: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” While this statement is true on many levels, it does remove the personal responsibility of the person who begins to “feel” a certain way – good or bad in relation to how they were treated. We all have preferences and dislikes, and even the expressed preferences of those who are in our sphere of influence and impact our perception and subsequent biases and errors when processing how being treated a certain way makes us feel. Before getting into the biases and the errors of perception caused by them, here is a very common example of this:
While labeling items for organization is a great strategy for a kitchen pantry or an office file cabinet, it can be catastrophically negative for human beings. Deep down, most people know this, yet do it anyway, why? More than likely because it is easy and effective. If a person is bad with names, it may be easier to refer to a person in association with what they do, or a quality or characteristic about them than to actually remember their name. It is also a way that people speak in code, so that they can reference a person without using their name. People label other people out of admiration or spite, while seemingly harmless this can add undue stressors in the lives of those who have been labeled, or rather mislabeled.The unfortunate thing about labeling is that, the person being labeled has the association with the label until they are either relabeled (external influence) or find a way to redefine themselves to others.
The Biblical example of this is naming children – In Genesis 35:18, Rachel names her final child with Jacob/Israel Benoni – which means Son of my Sorrow. However, Israel renames him Benjamin – which means Son of the right hand, which denotes a position of power and importance. This story was not added to the Bible just to fill up the page, in Judaism and many other cultures, a name is almost like a prophecy as to what the nature and life of the child being named will be. This is why the prayer of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:9-10), whose name means, “Because I bore him with pain” was so significant. Jabez asked God to bless him and expand his territory, one could only assume that this prayer was a prayer of desperation and urgency. The Bible does not go into detail, however it is possible that Jabez’s life had been in turmoil up to that point and he realized that God’s grace and mercy is what he needed most. Blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10: 46-52), is another great example. He was a blind beggar and cried out to Jesus to heal him. As the story goes, Jesus responds and heals him and he follows Jesus. It’s amazing that even after Jesus heals him and it is documented that he received his sight that he is still referred to as Blind Bartimaeus to this day. His label outlived him! The label does not apply anymore, and yet that is how he is still being referred to and the greater miracle of Jesus healing him comes after. Bottomline – labels placed on humans, like names matter in the life of the people and those who interact with them.
Types of Personal Biases and Perception Errors
Positivity Bias is when a person has an optimistic viewpoint for most situations. Even when unpleasant situations occur, a person who has this type of perception bias will find something positive to focus on or something to be grateful for. In Christianity, this is a desirable type of worldview to have, especially when the goodness of God is praised for the things in life that are often overlooked, uncounted, and unappreciated. While having this positive perspective in most situations is commendable, it can trigger people who are much more skeptical and pessimistic to not relate or trust them.
Negativity bias is when a person has a tendency to have a negative, possibly even a dark outlook for most situations. Even when things are going well they are looking for the underlying unpleasantries or things that do not seem to fit. Worry, anxiety, and doubt are often expressed in connection to the future and regardless of the circumstance there will always be something to complain about. Of course in Chrisitanity and most other religions and cultures this perception bias is common, but not desirable. In some situations, like a post war or post recession era this type of bias may be regarded as practical, however in most cases it does not prove to be very useful in the long run. While it is natural to be pessimistic in some circumstances, Christians aim to be joyful and celebrate every victory regardless of how big or small.
The Halo Effect
The Halo Effect is in a sense a concentrated combination of the positivity and negativity biases. It can be regarded as a perception error in extreme cases. NNGroup describes the Halo Effect this way:
The halo effect works both in both positive and negative directions:
- If you like one aspect of something, you’ll have a positive predisposition toward everything about it.
- If you dislike one aspect of something, you’ll have a negative predisposition toward everything about it.
In the Book of Esther, we could describe King Ahasuerus’ divinely ordained favor for Esther as the Halo Effect as a mild example. Once King Ahasuerus met with Esther romantically, he decided that he liked her more than the other women that were prepared for him and decided to make her queen in Vashti’s place. The king favored Esther so much that when she broke the law by appearing before him in court without being summoned, which was punishable by death if the king disapproved, that he not only welcomed her to make any request, but he also offered her up to half of his kingdom! The other women that were added to the king’s harem were either kept as additional wives with no ruling power or position or kept as concubines. So there was a clear distinction of Esther from the other women and this helped to fulfill the purposes of God for His people.
Another example of the Halo Effect and its negative consequence also comes from the Book of Esther. Haman was one of the king’s governors that had worked his way up to be close with the king. He actually became one of the king’s most trusted advisors. The problem was that he hated one of the court officials that served at the king’s court – Mordecai. He hated that Mordecai would not bow to him because of his Jewish faith that forbids him to do so. So Haman not only hated Mordecai, he decided that he also hated all Jews – to the point that he wrote a law to legally exterminate them from the kingdom. Have you noticed that when a person begins to strongly dislike, or even hate another person, everything that that person does is perceived negatively? For example (fictional), the matriarch of a family finds out that her son in law cheated on her daughter while she was away at a conference for work. She used to like him to the point where she just referred to him as her “son”, but now will not talk to him and only references him as “the cheater”. He and his wife reconcile and he really sharts to treat his wife better, but when his mother in law finds out that he recently got a promotion on his job that will free his wife/her daughter up to stay at home, her only response is “Who did he sleep with to get that?” Many of us have been on either side of the Halo Effect for both positive or negative reasons, but obviously the negative Halo Effect is the one that tends to manifest the easiest for a lot of people. As Christians we love to show favor and preferential treatment as well as receive it, however although we know to forgive and repent when necessary this can be difficult to walk out, especially when the negative Halo Effect is in play.This is when we have to depend on God to allow us to forgive or even repent out of the portion of love that He has already given for us through His Son Jesus Christ.
*Please Note – that a person can have more than one of these perception biases – more on that later.
A lot of people like following the latest trends, be it in fashion, technology, or the latest “buzz words” or slang a lot of people want to remain relevant. This is sort of how the Recency Bias works – the most recent encounter with a person, thing, subject matter, etc. is how that person relates to it or perceives it from that point on, or until a new new experience with it. While this can be great for a person who is seeking a second chance with a person that they have history with and gets it, for the other people who remember when and how badly that person messed up, they will often not understand or be supportive. This can also seem very unfair to a person who has always “towed the line” and just messed up one time and expressed sincere apology, yet is met with the harshest punishment or consequence. Unless this person has an influential advocate that can persuade the authority figure to show some grace, this person will be regarded by their failure, unless they find a way to have a positive experience with that person again. There is a saying that “Time heals all wounds”, while that is a nice sentiment, for many people that is not the case. It could have happened over 10 years ago, but if that was their most recent interaction with that person, they will more than likely not deviate from that perception.
An example of this once again is coming from the Book of Esther. The Book of Esther begins with King Ahasuerus summoning Queen Vashti to come to the king’s party/festival to display her beauty to everyone. There are several ways to interpret what is happening in this scene, however the scene is usually depicted in the late night early morning hours when the king has been partying for a while, and possibly intoxicated that he sends for Vashti. When Vashti sends back the response that she will not appear as requested, the king is enraged and humiliated and thus begins to despise her from that moment. This is so critical because there is no Biblical record of any good Queen Vashti may have done prior to upsetting the king. It is as if the only important information to remember about her is that she defied the king and lost her queenship because of it. Perhaps if the king had been able to remember the good qualities that made him like Vashti in the first place, he may not have been so harsh. Psalms 103 says, “Bless the Lord O my soul and forget not all of His benefits.” Remembering the good qualities of people, even people who have disappointed us, is definitely something that we all can practice more. What if God treated us that way, only relating to us as evil when we mess up (and all of us mess up) negating the plans and destiny that He prepared for us? Thank goodness that He doesn’t do that! He created us and knows the good that He put in us. His plans are to prosper us and are not evil (Jeremiah 29:11).
According to Macro-Ops.com Gambler’s Fallacy is “the opposite of recency bias. It occurs when you start believing that because a certain result happened more frequently in the past, there’s a higher probability a different result will occur in the future. This is definitely not walking by faith and more like playing Russian Roulette blindfolded. We all take risks in life, some prove to be beneficial while others do not. This type of risk is truly the mentality of gambling at a slot machine – people sit at slot machines pouring money in all day and night hoping to “hit the jackpot”. They have unfavorable odds of winning, however because there are people who do win, they are willing to keep sitting there hoping the next spin will be the winner. Of course this is a negative example of this bias, because in some situations doing the same thing over and over can pay off. However in regards to faith and love, a lot of people do the same things over and over expecting a different result until they run out of chances. A Biblical example of this is Sampson – He had it all! Position, power, super strength and favor with God, yet he foolishly neglected his duties and disobeyed God and broke his Levitical vows to not intermingle with people who did not regard his God. He repeatedly took a gamble with trying to build a relationship with Delilah – a woman from the Philistine camp who was his enemy! She insisted that he tell her what the secret to his super strength was in order to be intimate with her, and every time he told her a false theory on why he was so strong she tested him as she was paid to do. He would wake up with his hands and feet bound or his hair tied up and avoided every trap she set for him, until the day he told her the truth. On that morning not only did he find out that he had been betrayed by his love, but that his super strength was gone as well. He not only was severely beaten by his enemies, but he was mocked and disgraced throughout the town. While it is easy for us to see Deliliah’s intentions, and can even argue that Sampson should have seen the signs and realized her games were of bad intentions, many of us have been in the same if not worse situations and suffered greatly for it. We have been shamed, disgraced, and regarded as stupid and foolish because we willing to take a gamble when we knew the odds were against us. Sampson did eventually redeem himself and save his people from the Philistines, however he paid with his life unnecessarily. Had he tended to his duties, and upheld his vows, or even repented when he realized Delilah was playing dangerous games with him, he could have avoided that. However, like many of us have done, we found out that taking a high risk gamble costs more than we can pay. Thank Jesus for the Blood of His sacrifice that paid the debt of our sin and risky decisions that we could never afford to repay.
According to Neuroleadership.com, “We may be the stars of our own show, but other people see the world slightly differently than we do. Experience bias occurs when we fail to remember that fact. We assume our view of a given problem or situation constitutes the whole truth.” In many cases, this is the main perception bias that many of us have. While this could be either positive or negative perceptions, it could potentially stunt the growth of a person when their personal experiences are few, or not relevant to a similar but new situation that arises. How many times have you been so sure of something, a trivia question, or directions to a place you have been before, etc. just to realize that you were wrong? While most of us realize that this will happen from time to time and that we can not always be right, other people have a more difficult time with this. They may exhibit bad behavior, or sulk, and possibly even insist that they were at least partially correct in some way. Other people are vindictive when proven wrong, and will seek to undermine the person who they feel outsmarted them. On the flip side there are people that hold a wealth of experiential knowledge that has pulled us out of or helped us avoid bad situations. We all know people that like to give advice, whether it was asked for or not. I happen to be one of those people, not because I think I know it all, but because I genuinely would like to help or assist if I can. Over time, however, I have learned that I do not have to always provide an answer or theory in response to someone’s problem. My experiences could not possibly be enough to know how to deal with other’s problems, needless to say my own. There are some topics that I know that I should not speak on, except to offer prayer and encouragement, because my experience has not taken me on that journey yet. Overall God is the ultimate source of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, and when we need assistance we should seek Him first. That being said, Experience Bias is something that we all do and experience from others. It could manifest as diligence on the job that leads to a promotion, or an outstanding performance that leads to a “big break’. It could be learning not to interact with that person before they have had their coffee in the morning, or understanding that a person’s mood may be off because of personal issues in that person’s life. We can have compassion and appreciation for people when we use our Experience Bias through the lens of God’s love.
There are several examples of Experience Bias in the Bible and most of them involve kings. The example of Joseph’s rise to power is a compound example because it was 1st his interpretation of the Pharaoh cupbearer’s dream in prison that opened up the opportunity for him to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream which would lead to his promotion to second in command. Of course all of this was ordained by God, however in this example, the positive experience that the cupbearer had with Joseph made it easy for him to recommend him to Pharaoh to interpret his dream. Other examples of this are Daniel interpreting the king’s dreams, David killing Goliath (he had experience killing bears and lions to protect his father’s sheep), Mordecai and the king’s Book of Remembrance, and Sheba and King Solomon. Negative examples of this are King Ahab and the prophet Elijah and King Ahab (again) and the prophet Macaiah. King Ahab did not have good experiences with the prophets of God because they called out his wrong doings and acknowledged God as the ultimate authority and King. He disliked Micaiah so much that when the prophet came to him with the Word of the Lord he put him in jail.
Similarity Bias is when an authoritative figure or group prefers or denies a person based on how similar they are to them. This is openly practiced in corporate hiring and team formation. While it makes sense that the “selector” would be more drawn to someone that shares similar interests, worldviews, and values, this practice usually ends up reducing the diversity and creativity within the group or organization. While God does want His people to reflect His image in the earth, He also loves variety and diversity. Just researching all of the various species of the same animal that exists is really telling on how God does not expect everyone to be the same. Have you ever been rejected or left out because you were different? Or are you a type of person that usually fits in with the “in” crowd? Neither is wrong, however regardless of our position in life, we need to remember that God sees His people differently than we do. He not only sees the outer appearance, but knows our heart and intentions.
A great example of Similarity Bias would be the story of how the prophet Samuel anointed David to be the future king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Samuel met each of Jesse’s sons and thought that any of them would be a good fit to be king. God had to remind him that He was not concerned with only the outer appearance, but was also taking into consideration the heart of the son who would be selected. Samuel went down the line and one by one each son that was presented was not chosen by God. When Samuel realizes that he has met each son that was in attendance, he asks Jesse if he had any more children that were not present. Only after Samuel’s questioning did Jesse send for David who was still out in the field tending sheep. David arrived unkept and worn from working with his flocks, but as soon as Samuel saw him, God confirmed that he was the one to be appointed Israel’s next king. Jesse, David’s father had a case of Similarity Bias when deciding which of his sons would be able to attend the sacrifice that Samuel had invited them to. Other factors like the fact that David was the child of his father’s concubine, and not his wife, or the fact that somebody needed to stay behind and care for the sheep all could be reasons why David was not initially invited.
A group example of Similarity Bias would be the relationship that Joseph had with his brothers (Genesis 37). Joseph was different from his brothers, he was favored by their father Jacob/Israel because he was the first biological son of his favorite wife Rachel. Joseph was given a special robe that was very rich and colorful looking and was excused from many of the more labor intensive chores.His brothers noticed the difference of treatment and grew resentful against him. Because of Joseph’s better treatment and his dream to be a ruler, his brothers decided to eliminate Joseph from their lives by selling him to traveling merchants. We know how the story ends with everything working out in Joseph’s favor, but isn’t it interesting to know that his brother’s envy, resentment and bias against Joseph was what set it all into motion.Similarity Bias is not inherently wrong or evil, but it is a human tendency to be drawn to people that we most identify with, so we must take great care to find our identity in Christ and to be willing at times to look past the differences to find the point of agreement or understanding with people that are different from us.
The Safety Bias is the “tendency to avoid loss” as stated by NeuroLeadership.com. A sort of self preservation type of perception that analyzes the amount of risk, danger, comfort, and safety in every situation. This bias often works simultaneously with the Similarity and / or the Negativity biases. For example: A person notices a new colleague sitting alone in the meeting room but instead of introducing themself and asking to join him, this person decides to make a “bee line” directly to the group of coworkers that they always sit with during meetings. What are the risks of sitting with “the new guy” in a meeting? Maybe they would be distracted by the new person or have to explain meeting protocols or make small talk. Maybe they heard some damning gossip about the new person and do not want to be associated with him, or afraid that they will get stuck sitting with the new guy in every meeting so they just avoid it. Reasons like that could deter a person with Safety Bias, especially if they have other biases in play as mentioned earlier. Another reason a person may have Safety Bias is if they have suffered or witnessed some deep traumas in their life. This applies to most people, however some people seem to have really caught a lot of tough breaks in life that affects their perception of how safe any environment is, or what danger looks like to them. Extreme cases of this include Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Acute stress disorder (ASD). Less extreme examples, like the scenario from the example, show how Safety bias can affect judgment (especially of others), and decision making in various degrees. Whatever the person values or fears most is where this perception bias will pop up. If a person places high value on their time, they will avoid wasting time at all costs. If it is money that they value, or fear losing, they will closely guard it. Fears of rejection and abandonment will affect decision making in social, family, or romantic relationships.
Some people experience Safety Bias as being wise or practical, when it could just be a cover up for a fear or anxiety. It can cause someone to shrink back when it is time to be bold or take a chance. A Biblical example of this is in 2 Kings 13:14-24 when King Joash is visiting the prophet Elisha in his final days, and Elisha instructs Joash to strike the ground after declaring an upcoming victory. Joash strikes the ground with the arrows only 3 times.
So the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had destroyed it. But now you shall strike Aram only three times.” – 2 Kings 13:19
Elisha had just proclaimed a victory for the king and Joash responded by striking the ground only 3 times. What was holding Joash back? Why wasn’t confidence, celebration, and boldness unleashed at the Word of the Lord? The Bible does not say this, however, there is a possibility that King Joash was playing it safe. He was in an uncomfortable situation with a fraile and aging, but highly respected prophet who was leading him into prophetic acts that he did not fully understand. We may never know why he only struck the arrows 3 times, however the Bible clearly shows that he short changed himself and the possibility for complete victory because he held back in that moment. I think many of us can think of moments in our lives that are like this, we had the opportunity for something we wanted but did not “go for it”, or we knew success was possible but didn’t take the situation seriously or give our best effort. We may even know the regret of not seeing the fullness of certain promises fulfilled because we held back in a moment of uncertainty.This is why recognizing where and how Safety Bias operates in our lives is so important, walking by faith can seem risky at times, so we have to seek discernment from the Holy Spirit to know when to uphold or put our Safety biases aside.
According to CatalogofBias.org “Information bias is any systematic difference from the truth that arises in the collection, recall, recording and handling of information in a study, including how missing data is dealt with. Major types of information bias are misclassification bias, observer bias, recall bias and reporting bias. It is a probable bias within observational studies, particularly in those with retrospective designs, but can also affect experimental studies” In other words, Information Bias is leveraging external information independent from the truth to support their perception of the truth. This is so relevant to the way that news is reported and received nowadays. If someone does not agree with facts that were reported, they call it fake news. If someone wants to have only certain phrases or “facts” remembered they find an external source to validate their “spin” on what the truth is. Idealistically, all people would be able to distinguish and agree on what is to be considered as “truth”. However, with all of the Experience, Similarity, and Safety biases going on (and other biases of course) there is no way that everybody is going to agree on one thing. Crowds of people all in the same place, witnessing the same event, yet each coming away with varying accounts of what actually happened… sound familiar? Information Bias is like an unconscious game of “telephone” that everyone is playing, but nobody knows it. Asking the simple question of “What is the truth?” will get you a barrage of answers ranging from rational to bizarre and impossible.
Another way that Information Bias has been used since ancient times is to discredit someone’s intentions and / or integrity or block someone from a position or honor by revealing some awful but unrelated thing about them or from their past. This is the basis of “Cancel Culture”. While some people’s bad behavior may cause them to deserve to be canceled in many people’s eyes, the fact that other people who have done just as bad or even worse things join in the judging and “canceling” to remain hidden and unrevealed among their peers. Some people consider “canceling” a person or group as a type of justice, while in many cases it is just a highly veiled case of revenge manipulated by a jaded accuser. Not saying that those that do wrong should not face consequences for their actions, but this type of Information bias usually seeks to do more harm than just bringing a person to justice. The accuser wants to have the canceled person labeled as a bad person, untrustworthy, etc. forever. But the truth is all people sin, all people have lapses in good judgment and behavior at varying points in our lives. Some people have them more often and more types than others. If we only treat others based on the information that we know about them (which may not even be true regardless of whether the information is good or bad) we will fulfill the Kingdom mandated that we were placed on this earth in this era to accomplish.
A Biblical example of Information Bias is when Jesus allowed Mary to wash His feet with her hair and tears (Luke 7:36-50). The Pharisee that invited Jesus saw what was happening and thought that Jesus should have known better than to let a woman who was a sinner to touch him if he was truly a prophet of God. In that moment, the Pharisee questioned Jesus’ authenticity as a Man of God because of the information that he had about Mary. He missed the beauty and holiness of the moment because his perception was filtered by erroneous and irrelevant information. There is also a cultural aspect in play as well, because Jews, especially Jewish Priests, were mandated from the law of Moses to not touch any unclean thing, or they would have to be treated as unclean for a certain period of time. So while the Pharisee did question Jesus’ integrity, he was basing it off of information that unbeknownst to him was no longer valid in the situation.This scenario also has hints of Labeling and Gossip in it because Mary was only regarded as a sinner to the Pharisee, not by her real name/identity. Unless the Pharisee had witnessed or participated in some sinful act with Mary personally, the only other way that we would know her as a sinner is through Gossip, While Jesus did not respond to Mary according to what was said about her or even acknowledging her past sin, many of us Christians who believe that it is righteous and even pleasing to God to shame and cancel people for their past sins are not following Christ’s example. Yes we are supposed to love what God loves and hate what God hates, but that never includes people because that is not the example that Jesus set for us, for He ONLY does what He sees the Father doing (John 5:19-20).Dear Christian guard your heart fiercely when new “tea” is being served, you never know when God will need you to be ready to witness to, pray for, charitably serve, or even receive a blessing from that person.
What is it going to take to overcome all of the biases?
- First we need to be aware of them but not afraid of them. Pray and ask God to reveal them to you. If you act first then question later, don’t beat yourself up, learn from it and put that bias on the “hit list”.
- Use discernment when noticing it in others, not everyone will be ready for this type of calibration spiritually, emotionally, etc. so tread lightly. If you see it, but they do not, even after you tried to make them aware of it. Let it go, give it to God and let Him handle it. It is not our job to “fix” people or call out everything that we notice.
- Keep things in perspective, God’s Word is the final authority not our perceptions or biases. Learning about how we process our world around us is very intriguing, just don’t fall down a rabbit hole and get stuck there. If this information is overwhelmingly revealing more that you can handle, seek God and put it aside for a while. The main thing is to be aware that biases can work in the background of our decision making, so we should always invite God into our decision making processes regardless if they are big or small decisions.
- Be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Realize that everyone is not going to like the changes that you are making, especially if it takes them out of their comfort level with you. Learn to be ok with that. Don’t be afraid to not join in with the crowd when you see them going down a destructive path. At the same time you cannot expect that same crowd not to mob you if you decide to tell them that their perceptions are wrong. If you need to point out a bias to someone, let the Lord lead you and cover you in that.
- Perfection is not the goal, the goal is to live and love better, to continue developing the mind of Christ, and to fulfill our Kingdom mandates.
Wow, thank you for reading to the end of this blog post! This post is packed with so much information, if you want to see where I got the definitions of the biases from or just learn more about them, there are some links below or you can google the names of each bias mentioned. If you know someone who would like this type of content please by all means share and repost. As always, thank you again for reading this, and God bless!
Dionne Renae ❣❣❣
Links to articles about other biases – from a business/organizational viewpoint