Motivated Reasoning (10)

Motivated Reasoning

The processes of motivated reasoning are a type of inferred justification strategy which is used to mitigate cognitive dissonance. When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled “motivated reasoning”. In other words, “rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe”.[2] This is “a form of implicit emotion regulation in which the brain converges on judgments that minimize negative and maximize positive affect states associated with threat to or attainment of motives”

Some time around 1970, Ford Motor Company in Louisville, Ky initiated a program to hire hard core unemployable people to work as assembly operators. At that time I was a General Foreman in production assembly. Because of the dramatic challenges of integrating the hard core unemployable into the existing culture, a series of training sessions were conducted to better equip management employees. It was in one of those sessions that I encountered a life altering experience.

There were approximately 40-50 salaried employees participating in the training session. We were subjected to a variety of lectures and exercises designed to help us understand and deal with the cultural differences we would face as we managed what seemed to be unmanageable people. One particular exercise was life-altering for me.

The instructor told us we would be doing a problem solving exercise. We could not take notes but were to listen carefully to the problem and determine individually the correct answer. The problem was simple enough. It involved the sale of a mule between two farmers. There were three or four purchases and repurchases for different prices.  The problem to be solved was who finally owned the mule and how much did the seller profit?

Given a few moments to think about our answers, the instructor asked us to share our answers. I thought that was unnecessary since it was such simple problem and I had determined the correct answer almost immediately. Expecting that everyone else would have the same answer, I was surprised that there were four or five different answers. At that point I was feeling some satisfaction in having the correct answer.

Next we were instructed to form groups based on our answers. Four or five groups emerged. The number of people in the groups varied from 10-12, 7-8, etc and my group with 4. Again, I was a bit surprised how few had gotten the answer correct. Once we were grouped, the instructor told us to discuss our answer within our group. Following that discussion, we were told that we could change groups if we so desired.  The largest group gained some members, one of whom was from my group.

The next step involved each group sending a representative to the other groups to convince them that their answer was correct.  Following some passionate argument and pleas, once again we were given the opportunity to change our answer and join the agreeing group. I was pleased that none of my group departed but mystified that none joined us.

The final step involved each group sending a representative to work out their answer in writing on the white board. I represented our  group and was pleased at how clearly I was able illustrated the correct answer. Confident that people would finally realize how mistaken they were, I welcomed the final opportunity for people to change their minds and join my group.

I watched with disappointment as another of my group departed for the largest group. No one joined my group. There were now three groups. My group with myself and one other, a second group with 4-5 people and the large group with everyone else.  At this point, it is important to understand how invested I had become in the exercise. My mind was racing and my emotions were deepening. I was truly flabbergasted at the results of the exercise.  It had become personal.

To conclude the exercise, the instructor chose two people to represent the farmers and provided money for the transaction. I should not have been surprised that he chose me to be one of the farmers. To assure that there would be no question about the outcome, we methodically acted out the transactions. Carefully we passed the money with each exchange. At the conclusion, I possessed the money and was asked to count it for everyone to see. Convinced I had calculated the answer correctly, I gladly complied.

WRONG! I was wrong. There was no doubt.

The impact of that moment for me cannot be overstated. I was embarrassed and shamed. My arrogance and self-righteousness were exposed. How could I have been so deaf and blind? Any thought of humble acceptance escaped me. Thankfully the obvious outcome spared me the unfamiliar words: “I was wrong”. Almost immediately, the thought crossed my mind, “If I was wrong about this, what else am I wrong about? 

Perhaps, for the first time in my life, I came to grips with the possibility that I could be wrong. That experience altered the lens through which I view myself and the world around me for the rest of my life. For that reason the subject of echo chambers has attracted my attention. It is within the confines of echo chambers that we are shielded from the possibility of being wrong and subject to all the perils of such.

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Nick Names

Today while looking at old files on my computer I came across one entitled: Nick Names in Obituaries. For whatever reason, over a decade ago, I recorded nick names from obituaries for a brief time. Here is the list:

“Third Edition”
“Jo Jo”

Knowing that a nick name may follow someone to their grave, you might want to reconsider what nick name you give them.

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Surviving Echo Chambers (9)

I submit that the answer to the question … “How can the negative power of echo chambers be mitigated”? starts with what I have asserted from the beginning of this series of posts.

The most significant human trait that sustains and encourages the proliferation of and participation in harmful echo chambers is our unwillingness to entertain the possibility that we may be wrong.

The idea that we can mitigate the power of echo chambers by embracing our fallibility is counterintuitive. The very reason we reside in echo chambers is because of our desire for confirmation that we are right. Kathryn Schultz is helpful in understanding the importance of error.

Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority , the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition . Far from being a moral flaw , it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities : empathy , optimism , imagination , conviction , and courage . And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance , wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change . Thanks to error , we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world .
Schulz, Kathryn. Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error (p. 5). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

While we intellectually accept that we may be wrong, to consistently  adopt that frame of mind is a daunting task.  As we have seen, the desire to protect our rightness rejects any notion that we may be wrong. At the same time, accepting our fallibility is the only effective antidote to the irrational notion that we are infallible.

There is a deep aversion to being wrong. It feels wrong and counterintuitive to look for evidence that contradicts our rightness.

If we relish being right and regard it as our natural state , you can imagine how we feel about being wrong. Quite unlike the gleeful little rush of being right—we experience our errors as deflating and embarrassing. In our collective imagination , error is associated not just with shame and stupidity but also with ignorance , indolence , psychopathology , and moral degeneracy . (Shultz)

I have observed in my personal interactions, most likely because of writing this article, a correlation between interpersonal conflict and perceived implications of wrongness. Even in ordinary conversations about the most mundane subjects, an innocent remark perceived as a challenge to my rightness can initiate s defensive reaction, if not conflict. The need to defend my position transcends any possibility that I might be wrong. Too often that results in, at worst, anger, resentment, disrespect and/or verbal abuse. At a minimum, an opportunity to communicate effectively and gain better understanding of the other person’s beliefs has been squandered.

It is naive to think that just knowing we need to acknowledge our fallibility will enable us to do so.

.. a widely discussed study found in the last decade that political partisans, when presented with contravening facts, leads to a hardening of the original position. Brendan Nyhan, summarized: “the general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong.” “Cognitive dissonance”—the “backfire” which we experience when we encounter some reality that stands in tension with our presumptions—is painful. So, digging in our heels, when faced with contrary facts, is a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

If facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds and more education is not a solution, we are faced with the discomforting reality that any solution must come from within ourselves.

The major threats to our survival no longer stem from nature without but from our own human nature within. It is our carelessness, our hostilities, our selfishness and pride and willful ignorance that endanger the world.
Unless we can now tame and transmute the potential for evil in the human soul, we shall be lost. How can we do this unless we are willing to look at our own evil?
Evil can be defeated by goodness. When we translate this we realized what we dimly have always known: evil can be conquered only by love.
The first task of love is self purification.
People  the Lie M. Scott Peck

“Nothing will make us so charitable and tender to the faults of others, as, by self-examination, thoroughly to know our own.” ~ Francois Fenelon

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Faulty Memory

Over the years, I have had concerns about my lack of memory of many of our family experiences. After thinking on that, I decided that I was (am?) seriously unbalanced. Not so much mentally unbalanced as spiritually unbalanced. Let me explain. Some years ago, Jon Weese in his series of lessons entitled East to West introduced me to two Hebrew words I was unfamiliar with … halacha and haggadah. At the time it was interesting but I sort of filed the thoughts away. Later, I came across the terms again in reading some material on parables. This time a light came on, particularly about my lack of memory. First let me define halacha and haggadah as I have come to understand them and then I will try to make my point about being spiritually unbalanced and bad memory. halacha – In common expression – “Jewish law”. Conceptually it means legal lore. Halacha deals with subjects that can be expressed literally. Halacha teaches how to participate , gives knowledge, norms for action and deals with details. haggadah – A word for a particular ritual of the Passover Seder meal during which the story of the passover is told.

The term haggadah simply means “narration” in Hebrew and, in Jewish tradition, it basically refers to discussions about classical Jewish literature which does not involve legal matters – anything which is not halakah. (
The nature of haggadah in contrast to halacha is that it focuses on the heart and imagination, introducing a realm which lies beyond the range of expression. It provides aspiration, a vision for the ends of living. Haggadah inspires people. It captures the heart through imagination. It reaches out and takes hold of the spiritual qualities of the human heart. It reveals God’s presence in personal experience. Haggadah reaches the heart and challenges the mind. It inspires people to see God’s image – even in the face of another human being with a wretched, uncomely appearance. The intellect grabs the meaning of Biblical text but haggadah penetrates the heart with the message that every human being is created in the image of God. (from The Parablesby Brad Young)

After thinking about my memory problem I have decided that it is not a memory problem at all. It is a sight/perception problem. I can remember many things that occurred during the same time periods that I cannot remember other things, particularly family moments. So what does that have to do with halacha and haggadah? Halacha and haggadah are two different concepts of interpreting scripture as they are commonly used but I think they are also lens through which we interpret and understand life and relationships. A balanced person will will employ both halacha and haggadah in understanding life’s experiences. It is my opinion that very few people are perfectly balanced in that way. Most of of us are biased toward one or the other. It is analogous to being “right” brained or “left” brained. In fact, it is an important task in our lives to understand and achieve a healthy appreciation for the “left” and the “right”. But, unfortunately, we can become “unbalanced”, not just biased but “clinically” unbalanced i.e. spiritually unbalanced. I believe that is why I have little memory of many important events. My lens for viewing life experiences was so colored by halacha that I had little appreciation or recognition of anything that I could not see through that lens. This begs a number of questions … What causes a person to be “spiritually unbalanced”? Is there a cure? What are the implications to my understanding of scripture and my relationship to God? Of course, some may question my conclusions entirely but that would be welcome.

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At Home in Truth

… not many of us are at home in the truth.  We are moderately good people but because we are only moderately good self-deception is an endemic problem.  Genuinely bad people often have less illusion about themselves and the world than those of us who try to be morally pretty good people.  We discover, for example, that in our interactions with those with whom we are closest it is quite difficult not to lie.  I suspect you will discover, and I suspect many of you already discovered, that in your most serious relationships, which sometimes will be marriage, you will fear telling the one you love the truth because the truth will threaten the fragile intimacy that originally sustained the relationship.  That is why I have never trusted declarations by couples that claim they have always had a happy marriage.  That just tells me someone lost early.

From Stanley Hauerwas 

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Working at UPS

New (?) Adventure (2006)

It was my first day to report to UPS for work. Two days of orientation and then I get serious. I’m looking forward to the experience. It will mean some adjustments to my daily routine. My shift is M-F 10am-3pm. Change is good for me.


I received my UPS training certification. I am fully trained in all aspects of safety, quality and performance (well, we’ll see about the performance). It is very interesting to meet the people working as package handlers. With only a couple of exceptions, I probably have 30-40 years on them. I also got my first check. The best part was I didn’t make enough to have to pay any federal and state income taxes.

Life Lessons from Loading

I am working steadily at loading packages, I’ve recognized there are lots of life lessons to be learned from the work and the means and methods that they teach you.

Today’s life lessons:

  • You always need a cornerstone package to start the load.
  • Heavy packages on the bottom.
  • Light packages on the top.
  • Always ask for assistance to handle packages that are too heavy or awkward.

Those who have ears let them hear.

Life Lessons from Loading (Gifted)

I have often thought about in what way God has gifted me. Yesterday my loading trainer told me that I was doing a really good job. “You’ve got the gift”, she said. “What gift, I asked”? Her reply was, “You know. The gift of loading”. Well, I’m not sure what I will do with my gift after Christmas, but it is good to finally know I am gifted.

More “Life Lessons from Loading”

  • Loading is really easy when the packages are all relatively uniform. The difficult part comes when you have to deal with the “irregulars”, the packages that are odd shaped and non-conforming.
  • Hazardous material requires special handling.

Reflections on Working at UPS

My short career at UPS ended Friday 12/15/2006. I was hired as seasonal help and I had no intention of extending my time. In fact, most seasonal employees work until New Year’s but Florida called and I answered. My experience at UPS was interesting on several levels. Most people when they found out I was working there seem surprised. They would ask, “Why would you do that”? I didn’t usually give a direct answer but the question is valid. The work is hard and physical. I’m an old man and there are a lot of jobs that pay as much or more and don’t require as much effort. The pay is a small fraction of what I have been paid in recent jobs. There weren’t many hours available and I would only be working until we leave for Florida.

So why did I choose to go to UPS. The most objective answer is the hours were good. I signed up for 10 am to 4 pm M-F only. Those hours let me work without disrupting much of my normal routine. Another attraction was the physical challenge. I had heard a lot about how difficult package handling is and I was anxious to see if I was up to it. Well it was difficult and I was up to it; not withstanding the hot whirlpool baths and 800 mg of ibuprofen each day. I must admit I’m not sure what I would have done if it had been summer time. The money was not the main reason for working but I sure wouldn’t have worked for nothing.

I did feel I needed to work. Work is intrinsically good and the fact that I was working was good for me. Everyone needs the pleasure of working, of having a task to be done and achieving it and knowing you did it well. I was told I have the gift of loading. At a deeper level, my decision to work relates to a nagging need to be in the “market place”. I feel that I have been isolated from the “real world” in almost every circumstance. Working at UPS certainly filled that need. It also provided an opportunity to interact with people without the costumes of identities that I have accumulated in my life, i.e. Ford manager, church leader/member, Bible teacher, Bachelor of Science, Master of Science. Those identities are not bad but they become lens through which people view you and form pre-conceived notions about who you are and what you believe. More importantly, when you are identified through those lens you are treated differently and relationship can be impeded or diminished. Perhaps it was a Prince and the Pauper kind of experience. I am not ashamed of the opportunities and accomplishments of my life but in our culture they can easily become the source of purpose and meaning for our lives. The UPS experience offered an opportunity to engage people in way not normally available in my every day circumstances. I am very reluctant to compare my efforts to what Paul described in his Philippian letter but in an embarrassingly small way my UPS experience was a clumsy attempt to follow Paul’s counsel in my life.

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash along with everything else I used to take credit for.

And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant as dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ as God’s righteousness.

I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. (Phil 3:7-14 The Message)

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Life as a Journey

…thinking about life as a journey reminds me to stop trying to set up camp and call it home. It allows me to see life as a process, with completion somewhere down the road. Thus I am freed from feeling like a failure when things are not finished, and hopeful that they will be as my journey comes to its end.I want adventure, and this reminds me that I am living in it. Life is not a problem to be solved, it is an adventure to be lived.

John Eldridge

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Is It What It Is ?

I am always trying to find ways to explain how I think and see the world differently than I did years ago. As I sat waiting for an orientation class at to begin, the television was tuned to an educational channel and the program was a GED preparation math class. The teacher was trying to explain math concepts. He explained that a number, for example the number 5, is more than just a 5. You could say that 5 is 5 and that what it is. But in reality 5 is infinitely more than just 5. Five is not only 5 it is 2.5×2 = 15/5 = 37-32 = 6-1 = 7.4389 – 2.4389 = ad infinitum . Yes, they are all 5 but 5 is more than just 5. I can’t explain all the math concepts in the illustration but for me it was a great way to illustrate how my thinking and ultimately my view of the world have changed. My former way of thinking was when I saw 5, it was 5 and that was what it was. Somewhere along the line I realized that not only is 5 … 5, it is 2.5×2 and 15/5 and much more. Things I viewed so narrowly, I now realize have endless possibilities in how they are seen and understood. Creation reflects the infinite nature of the Creator.


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At a recent life group meeting the following question was posed. Do you think our church is friendly?  The question arose because a first-time visitor had commented that they did not find our church to be very friendly. After some discussion, we seem to reach a general  conclusion that we are, in fact, a friendly congregation. It felt good to be affirmed about being a friendly church.

How then do we reconcile the visitor’s experience with our conclusion? Easy enough…
She was probably not very approachable..  She may have left immediately after services before anyone had a chance to engage her… She didn’t speak to anyone… et al.  More significantly she was a stranger.

It only takes a cursory observation of the foyer to see how friendly we are. People are everywhere, warmly greeting and talking with one another. A closer look reveals that our friendliness is mostly directed to people we know. Yes we are friendly.  That sort of interaction is what we have in mind when we declare that we are friendly. One author would describe the foyer scene as “The Territory of Our Kindness”

The Territory of Our Kindness

The walls we have to tear down to make room for each other are rarely physical. The walls that separate us are mostly psychological. Feelings are what exclude people from our friendship and dinner table: ignoring versus noticing, suspicion versus trust, exclusion versus embrace.

To describe how our affections carve up the world into friends versus strangers, the ethicist Peter Singer uses an idea he calls “the moral circle.”  A moral circle is created by a simple two-step process. First, we identify our tribe. We make a distinction between friends and strangers. We locate our family, friends, peeps, and BFFs. Everyone in this group is inside my moral circle. Everyone else is a stranger. So that’s step one: make a distinction between friend and stranger, between insider and outsider. The second step is this: extend kindness toward those on the inside of your moral circle. Consider the roots of the word kindness—kin and kind. Kindness is the feeling I extend toward my kin (my tribe, my people, my friends), toward those who are the same kind of people as me. Our affections are for sameness—like attracted to like, as Aristotle noticed millennia ago. We’re drawn toward the similar and the familiar. We care and look out for “our kind.” There is goodness in this dynamic—our love for family and friends, our loyalty to our tribe and “our people”—but there is also much darkness. The moral circle highlights our natural tendency to restrict our kindness to the few rather than to the many, limiting our ability to see or notice the stranger, let alone welcome him or her. Because the walls that separate us begin with our emotions, only a few people are admitted into the circle of our affections, the circumference of our care. [*]

Perhaps the better question is: “Are we hospitable?” Being friendly is not the same as being hospitable.

… hospitality — welcoming God in strangers and seeing Jesus in disguise — begins by widening the circle of our affections , the circumference of our care , the arena of our compassion , and the territory of our kindness.
We make room for each other because God made room for us . “ Welcome one another , ” Paul says in Romans 15 : 7 ( NRSV ) , “ as Christ has welcomed you . ”
Hospitality is expanding the moral circle to make room in our hearts for each other .
Beck, Richard. Stranger God: Meeting Jesus in Disguise (p. 9). Fortress Press.




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From Where Does My Praise Come ?

From where does my praise come?

…from the bounty of my circumstances?

…from the strength of my health?

…from freedom and liberty?

…from my goodness and rightness?


So dear God, keep from me




…failure and sinfulness

If not, where then would my praise come from?


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