Sam Radford

May 31, 2021

13 biases that prevent us seeing

I wrote about the podcast Learning How to See a while back. If you didn’t take the time to listen back then, I’d still recommend it.

The six episodes walk you through 13 biases that Brian McClaren has identified. Biases that get in the way of us seeing clearly.

In a recent blog post, Richard Rohr (who joins Brian and Jacqui Lewis on the podcast) outlines the 13 biases they discuss. I figured it’d be helpful to share in full.

People can't see what they can’t see. Their biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion. No amount of reasoning and argument will get through to them, unless we first learn how to break down the walls of bias. . . .

Confirmation Bias:
We judge new ideas based on the ease with which they fit in with and confirm the only standard we have: old ideas, old information, and trusted authorities. As a result, our framing story, belief system, or paradigm excludes whatever doesn’t fit.

Complexity Bias:
Our brains prefer a simple falsehood to a complex truth.

Community Bias:
It’s almost impossible to see what our community doesn’t, can’t, or won’t see.

Complementarity Bias:
If you are hostile to my ideas, I’ll be hostile to yours. If you are curious and respectful toward my ideas, I’ll respond in kind.

Competency Bias:
We don’t know how much (or little) we know because we don’t know how much (or little) others know. In other words, incompetent people assume that most other people are about as incompetent as they are. As a result, they underestimate their [own] incompetence, and consider themselves at least of average competence.

Consciousness Bias:
Some things simply can’t be seen from where I am right now. But if I keep growing, maturing, and developing, someday I will be able to see what is now inaccessible to me.

Comfort or Complacency Bias:
I prefer not to have my comfort disturbed.

Conservative/Liberal Bias:
I lean toward nurturing fairness and kindness, or towards strictly enforcing purity, loyalty, liberty, and authority, as an expression of my political identity.

Confidence Bias
: I am attracted to confidence, even if it is false. I often prefer the bold lie to the hesitant truth.

Catastrophe or Normalcy Bias:
I remember dramatic catastrophes but don’t notice gradual decline (or improvement).

Contact Bias:
When I don’t have intense and sustained personal contact with “the other,” my prejudices and false assumptions go unchallenged.

Cash Bias:
It’s hard for me to see something when my way of making a living requires me not to see it.

Conspiracy Bias:
Under stress or shame, our brains are attracted to stories that relieve us, exonerate us, or portray us as innocent victims of malicious conspirators.

The first step towards overcoming our biases is to see and acknowledge them. So a question for us all to ponder is: Which of these biases are undeniably affecting my ability to see?

It won’t take much to recognise one or two. And, the more we reflect honestly, the more we’ll see that all of them have had an affect on us. Maybe not to the same degree. Nor all at the same time. But no one escapes these!

The sooner we recognise that, the sooner we can progress. 


Got some thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you – do hit reply or drop me a note.

@samradford |