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A Professional Challenge to Make Our Biases Look Good When We Write

This morning, I posted a book writing-related blog post titled, “Genuine Writers and Authors Challenge Their Biases – Repeatedly.” It’s part of the weekly Challenge series I offer to anyone working on or thinking about working on a fiction or non-fiction book.

Those Challenges go up every Thursday. The associated Definition goes up that Tuesday, and Fridays are dedicated to relevant Writing Rules.

This week’s focus is “bias,” as in the bias that writers automatically have unless they’re of some race far superior to humanity. And here’s what I already wrote about it:

Challenge your bias by listening to someone on the other side for a change.

If you read Tuesday’s Innovative Editing blog post, then you have at least a basic understanding of bias. And if you accepted what that blog post said, then you recognize how you yourself are biased. We all are.

Our biases might be right, of course. Or they might be wrong. But a great way to get closer to the truth is to pay attention to the opposition’s argument every so often instead of filling our minds with the “we’re right and they’re wrong” propaganda that we usually like to hear.

I gave two personal examples of what it can look like when we do exactly that. The one started out as an anxiety-inducing encounter with a book that, if right, would have annihilated my entire worldview. And the other was a far less serious debate with my college roommate about whether William Carlos Williams’ poem The Red Wheelbarrow is pointless and boring or not.

Long story short, the book ultimately did not change my worldview. It’s hard to be swayed by an argument that amounts to “you’re a stupid poopy head if you disagree with me.” Yet thanks to that former roomie of mine, I do now have a different perspective on The Red Wheelbarrow.

After several contentious arguments that literally led to us not speaking, we managed to have a mature discussion on the topic of William Carlos Williams’ alleged amazingness. And while I walked away still firmly holding onto my bias that the poem could only be made more boring by elongating it, I no longer think it pointless.

How did she convince me to change my mind on the subject? That’s not something I was able to cover in my earlier blog post today. Nor will I bore you here with all the historical and literary contexts she brought up. That’s the kind of thing only pretentious English majors care about, which both of us were.

We’re just going to cover the breakdowns you can use in any debate, written or otherwise, no matter whether it’s about something like a hardcore worldview or something boring like The Red Wheelbarrow.

  1. Acknowledge you have a bias. This instantly makes you seem more reasonable. Admitting that you’re human makes you more attractive to other humans, who typically don’t appreciate being talked down to. Unless they’re part of a cult. So I guess if you’re leading a cult, ignore all this.

  2. Grant the opposition some minor concession. Maybe something along the lines of, “Okay, I understand why you would find the imagery of a red wheelbarrow and white chickens boring since you grew up in Lancaster County, PA, which wasn’t the most welcoming farmland for you.” That can disarm your opposition to some degree, letting them see that you’re not completely invalidating their thoughts or feelings. You’re simply disagreeing. And here’s why…

  3. That’s your cue to support your argument. You’ve established yourself as human. You’ve established them as human, thereby leveling the playing field to something hopefully more civil. After that’s accomplished, you bring out your A-game, complete with logical specifics, reasonable interpretations and respected sources to support your bias.

When handled that way, your bias could come out looking like fact.

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