We are over-using this word
Back in the fall of 2016, when I was in my second semester as an English adjunct professor, I was explaining to my freshmen composition students their latest assignment. They were to write an essay in response to an assigned reading I gave, basically, a critical thinking essay. As I was explaining what they all had to do for this essay and what the requirements were, I noticed a few of them looked nervous. I wondered if it was because they were unsure on how to do this assignment.
But when I asked if anyone had any questions, and one student raised her hand and asked, “but isn’t that being biased?”
I was startled, and took a few words to fully explain that they could be biased, and that was the point. “This is you giving your opinion on this topic and this reading. So, of course, you’re going to be biased. You’re allowed to biased here, that’s the point.”
A couple of years later, I was reviewing the evaluations from my students from another English composition course. While most of the students provided good reviews, one in particular left an angry evaluation. Now, these evaluations are anonymous, but I think I know who wrote that response, which read ‘“she is biased against anyone who doesn’t agree with her. DON’T RECOMMEND HER TO ANYONE”. If it is who think it is who wrote that, it was a student I disagreed with on certain issues, and he had a low tolerance for it.
These examples here show how the word “biased” is thrown a lot these days, particularly in the last few years. These examples also show how this word is probably misused and even overused.
The word “bias” means…definition time!
So yes, bias means you have a strong inclination towards something, to the point of that inclination being unreasonable. It does not mean you are wrong for disagreeing with someone, nor does it demonize having an opinion.
Bias is when you refuse to any other side of the coin. It is refusing to see any other point of view but your own. By that, if you say “I’m open minded” or “I’m willing to understand everyone’s point of view”, but continuously hold on to whatever beliefs you have so tightly, you have a bias for certain points of views.
But a problem here is that this word is being used so often these days, and sometimes for the wrong reasons, that it can make some believe they have to walk on eggshells around certain issues, as if they are afraid to give their thoughts on something. And if they do, they may be labeled as biased just for disagreeing with someone. That harms discourse, and the ability for two people to agree to disagree.
It can also happen towards the news media — which is often the target of the word, “bias”. As someone who is a freelance journalist and has promoted her work on social media, I have been called biased from time to time. But the problem is, I don’t see how I’m being biased if I am reporting on things that are happening right in front of me. If I am writing about things that are happening as they are, and may even have the video to prove it, how is that a bias? And if I’m reporting on a person or an organization that someone else does not like, am I being a biased journalist? It’s unlikely, because that person or organization has a story to share with others, or something timely is going on needs to reported on about that person or organization. Am I being narrow-minded? Am I refusing to see other sides to a story? What if the reporting I’m doing doesn’t call for anything than what is really going on?
Let’s take a look at some of the more famous moments in journalism. Remember how Shephard Smith reported from New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? He saw devastation everywhere, dead bodies on the streets, very few rescues taking place, and Black people being ignored during this time. He reported what he saw. He was right there. Was he being biased?.
How about when Anderson Cooper wept openly while covering the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings? Was he being biased?
The thing is, the word “bias” has become so overused, that it is becoming one of those words that is losing its original meaning. It also being thrown around as a way to insult or bully someone. It also seems to be holding opinions and critical thinking hostage.
Yes, there are times when the news media — both sides — are biased (and I’ll bring that up later). But before I end this week’s newsletter, ask yourself this: is the news media (or your professor, your family member, your neighbor, etc.) being biased, or are you the one being biased?
Originally published at https://ourequilibrium.substack.com.