by Amy Minervini
Before we write and of course as we write, we need to be aware of our own biases. We all have biases. According to most dictionaries, a bias is a prejudice that is often based on preconceived notions or unwarranted or unreasoned opinions. At a casual level, for instance, you may have a bias for chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream whereas your best friend prefers rocky road. It’s just an ice cream preference, you say, so it doesn’t really matter. I agree. In the general scheme of things, one’s preferential flavor of ice cream is trivial, but as we move up the ladder of bias, these prejudices can become more prominent and more dangerous.
Let’s keep with food for a minute. You prefer the taste of Diet Pepsi over Diet Coke, and you have some specific reasons for this: it has less of a chemical aftertaste, it’s a bit sweeter, and it has a smoother flavor overall. Because of these reasons after dozens of taste tests, you come to the conclusion that you prefer Pepsi products and have a prejudice against Coke products. So naturally you buy only Pepsi beverages when you go to the grocery store or gas station. After some time, your preference for your adopted brand becomes so intense that it extends to only patronizing restaurants or fast food joints that serve Pepsi products. This means that you refuse to eat at Subway, Chipotle, and Five Guys because they only serve Coke products. You will, however, happily spend your money at Taco Bell, Arby’s, and Applebees, which serves Pepsi. Your ‘preference’ or prejudice now has money behind it. And with money comes power, power of the wallet, power of the purse. In addition, you are essentially disregarding all other Coke products (that may taste great) or outright dismissing restaurants that serve other types of beverages that you might like or at least food you would enjoy.
Buying power is extremely important–this concept is why we are inundated with print, social media, and radio ads every waking hour of the day. Is this wrong? Perhaps wrong is not an accurate word in the two examples shown here–ice cream and beverages–but there would be something wrong (immoral or unethical) if those examples were represented by more important matters in this world, those things dealing with politics, race, culture, identity. Replace ice cream and beverages with any of the underlined words marked by specific examples (Republican, Democrat, Black, Hispanic, gay, bisexual, etc.), and these biases against such concepts or groups are not only hateful but downright dangerous.
In addition to addressing bias, it’s important to understand not only your own readers and anticipate their opinions but also identify the various stakeholders for any issue that you choose to discuss or write about. It’s easy to align with those who think similarly or support the same positions as you; it’s much harder to embrace the opposition, those who hold differing positions from you. Still, it’s the signs of a more even-handed, balanced writer and principled critical thinker when you can reach across the aisle and incorporate counterarguments in meaningful and sincere ways. Whether you are writing an analysis or argument essay, understanding and embracing your opposition not only enhances your overall argument but shows your willingness to engage in empathy and consequential communication with various stakeholders involved in the issue.
As you read about, confront, and write about topics for your composition and other courses, it’s important to keep a number of things in mind: audience, tone, open-mindedness, considering multiple viewpoints and stakeholders, identifying and addressing bias, and reaching out to your opposition. This chapter will walk you through adopting these strategies, which will come in handy whether you are writing a persuasive paper, analysis, or reflection.
Topics within this Chapter
- Identifying your audience and readers
- Appealing to your audience
- Engaging in reader-centered writing
- Conceptualizing concerns as dialogue
- Organizing and elaborating on concerns/objections
- Considering multiple views and avoiding bias
- Understanding how conversations change over time
- The ethics and importance of arguments across moral tribes
- Establishing lines of communication with the opposition’s traditional allies