Bias Check

Trustworthiness is partially measured by consistent behaviors. People tend to trust people with consistent actions.

My best friend always returns my call. We both lead busy lives. His work and married life keep him on the move. I ride a pendulum between over-achiever and hermit. I don’t expect him to always be able to pick up the phone when I call. But after twenty years of friendship, I know he will return my call. I trust his consistency. Consistency enhances our friendship. Consistency enhances all of our relationships. It is literally the thread that runs through our interactions with other people.

But consistency can be subjective if not defined. Sometimes if EJ doesn’t get what he wants he will tell me, I feel like you never want me to have fun. When he first started with this exasperating phrase, I would immediately respond negatively, usually with anger. I NEVER want him to have fun? My fury at the incredulous nature of the assertion was observable. I soon realized that my reaction caused my son anxiety. EJ felt less comfortable telling me how he felt because he was afraid I’d get upset. He started to internalize this as I’m a bad boy.

During my years as a Special Education teacher, I became quite adept at putting together Behavior Action Plans. These rather intense documents outline specific negative behaviors that I wanted to condition children to replace with positive behaviors. This might sound jarring, how dare I intentionally condition a child to do anything. In my opinion, it is far better than the alternative. I know from personal experience when left unchecked, self-destructive behaviors become a part of our identity.

Re-read that last.

Self-destructive behaviors become a part of our identity. Whether they are born of trauma or circumstances, or anything in between, self-destructive behaviors can often mask themselves as coping mechanisms. We justify them. We rationalize them. We make them a part of who we are. We don’t know who we would be without that quirky thing we do. But it isn’t just some quirky thing. It’s the poison we give ourselves to ignore the things too painful to process.

Getting back to those plans…

The more detailed the plan, the better chance it had of success. Vague descriptions of negative behaviors make them harder to identify, correct and track. Most of us don’t keep a running list of negative behaviors we need to identify, correct, and track. Or maybe most of us do keep such a list in our own heads but we are offended when others attempt to correct or track those behaviors. I know I am guilty of this. I have a list of things I would like to improve, and even though I encourage others to tell me how they experience me, my initial response when someone corrects my behavior is irritation. That’s why I need to run a bias check before I open my mouth.

EJ taught me this.

“I feel like you never want me to have fun” was my six-year-old trying to communicate with me. He wasn’t evaluating my parenting. He wasn’t judging my character. He was trying to express how he was experiencing me with the words he had at hand. He wasn’t having fun with me.

Never? No. But to a kid that feels like it’s an eternity when he has to wait fourteen hours for a sleepover with his bestie, ‘never’ is an expression of prolonged periods. When I removed my own feelings from what I heard, I was able to see that more clearly.

And he was right.

I get super focused and tunnel-visioned. There are periods when I obsess over creative projects and spend only hours at a time at home because of work. I was doing this without effectively balancing time with my kids. I thought the planned activities with others would be enough, my kid was just asking for time with me.

How can I be mad at that?

I don’t want to be the root of EJ’s anxiety, I am actively trying to avoid that possibility. But more importantly, I want all of my children to truly feel comfortable bringing anything in their hearts and minds to me. I want all those I care about to feel the same way.

So now, before I respond, I run a bias check. I ask myself the following questions:

  1. Do my observable actions or behaviors align with my cornerstones (mission, resource management, and philosophy)?
  2. Do my observable actions or behaviors demonstrate my defined beliefs/values?

Many times, I find pride, insecurity, or fear the cause of misalignment.

It is infuriatingly humbling.

But it has also made me a better mother, friend, colleague, and family member. It’s what helps me differentiate between a desire to complain and my need to process. Emotional processing always gets me to action quicker than complaining.

What does all of this have to do with consistency?

I think we largely live with the assumption that our actions are consistent with our identity and our values. I also think that if we asked others to identify our most annoying actions and behaviors, we would find that they are inconsistent with how we see ourselves. Asking myself these two questions reminds me that others can only see what is observable, the rest is literally in my head.

Now sometimes I run a bias check and find nothing out of alignment. Sometimes I run a bias check and my stubbornness is affirmed. I am behaving exactly as I would hope and expect myself to behave.

Either way, it has helped keep my movements more consistent. Consistency increases my trustworthiness, and that’s the whole point of the exercise.

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