“People put a lot less effort into picking apart evidence that confirms what they already believe.”
I’m writing this article less than 24 hours after the explosion at the Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital in Gaza.
Immediately blame went around.
“Israel purposely targeted a school!”
“Israel shot the hospital, but they weren’t aiming for it”
“The hospital was used to house munitions and the shelling was justified”
“Israel didn’t do it”
This was all before any sort of evidence was shared.
How is it that a portion of a story is heard, and people immediately fill in the gaps to complete the story?
It is something that we all do, and we do it often.
It is something known as Confirmation Bias.
It is important to know where facts end and speculation begins.
The fact that there was an explosion at/near the hospital was never a debate.
But that was where the facts ended.
Everything else was speculation, fueled by bias.
Here is how it works, using a non-war example:
In the 1990 ALCS, star pitcher Roger Clemens was ejected from the game by the umpire, who did not like the way that Clemens was speaking to him.
The broadcaster, a former player himself, called out the umpire for being unfair. That Clemens, whilst emotional, did not do anything to warrant being ejected. Later in the broadcast, a former umpire said that the umpire was right, and Clemens no doubt must have said something so egregious that it warranted ejection.
Both parties knew there was arguing on the part of Clemens.
Neither party knew exactly what was said by Clemens.
Yet each, with their confirmation bias, filled in the gap in the story based upon their own background, and therefore arrived at their own conclusion.
A conclusion made not based upon fact, but based upon the assumptions of events that surrounded the facts.
A conclusion that neither had a license to make, given the lack of information.
Video of the entire event can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtQoEA6GpPA
Ejection at the 8:00 min mark
Former umpire interview at 13:00 min mark
All too often people confuse their speculation and assumptions with facts. Most of the news stories that we hear are pieces of facts, glued together with speculation.
Speculation that is borne out of bias.
Bias that is created based upon our own prejudices, experiences, or the experiences of the one relaying the story to us.
If nothing else, we should to use this time to work on separating fact from assumption. We should also try to discover how and why we are having these assumptions.
Are these assumptions justified or are they not justified?
Even if they are justified, does that make them correct, or are you just playing the odds (e.g. the odds make my conclusion more likely than an alternative theory)?
And if they aren’t justified, what can we do to prevent unjustified assumptions from happening in the future?
In the case of Roger Clements vs. the umpire I’m proud to admit I cannot say whether the umpire was justified in his actions or whether he overstepped his authority.
I can say I don’t know because I don’t know what was said.
I can envision a scenario where the umpire went too far and I can envision a scenario where the umpire was justified.
It isn’t very fashionable to say nowadays, but it is perfectly okay to recognize the possibility of two very different scenarios.
It is also commendable to say that you don’t have an opinion because you are missing necessary pieces of information.
And if you still find yourself jumping to conclusions despite the lack of evidence, ask yourself the following:
Am I being fair to all parties by arriving at my conclusion?
What is causing me to reach this conclusion?
Am I okay with the fact that I am arriving at conclusions despite the lack of factual data?
If I am not okay with arriving at these conclusions, what will I do to prevent this from happening to the future?
Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker and therapist who lives and works in Jerusalem. He is certified in treating trauma, as well as working with various cognitive methods (e.g. DBT, CBT, REBT)
To speak with Yisroel about speaking at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at email@example.com