How We See the World

Beware of confirmation bias

There was once a monarch in ancient China who met and fell in love with the most beautiful woman of the land. Her beauty captivated him so much that he would overlook any of her faults. For example, there was a steep punishment for anyone who would ride in the king’s chariot without his permission (the person would have a foot chopped off). But one day, this beautiful woman set out to ride in the ruler’s chariot without permission because she was on her way to see her sick mother. The moment the king heard that she did this, he said, “Wow, what devotion she has to her mother for risking such a punishment!” and he instantly forgave her for doing so. 

On another occasion, when the two of them were walking in the woods, his beautiful love picked up a peach, and after taking one bite and calling it the most delicious thing she ever tasted, immediately handed it to him to finish. “Wow,” he thought. “What devotion she has to me, that she would give up the most delicious thing she ever ate so easily for me.”

And he loved her like this for many years.

But years later, after her beauty faded, she fell out of favor with the king. Then one day, when she did something to offend him, he thought, “I remember how she took my carriage without permission. And I remember that other time when she gave me a peach that she had already bitten into!” 

When we love someone, we see what we want to see. When we don’t love someone, we also see what we want to see. Confirmation bias is the term that describes how we look for information to back what we already know and believe. If we want to see someone as smart, we will. If we want to see someone as offensive, we will. Whatever we want to see, we will see, because our experience of the world has very little to do with the actual outside world, and just about everything we do with how we perceive it. 

Be mindful of your own confirmation biases. The more aware you are of them, the more open you’ll be to experiencing the world-as-it-is, rather than simply living in the world-as-you-want-it-to-be. 

For more on confirmation bias, listen to the “Tackling Everyday Motivation” episode of my new podcast with Ray Lewis, Tackling Life.