Becoming aware of biases behind daily decisions

Over the recent winter break I, as well as all other AP Lang-Comp students, had to read two books. One from a list provided by my teacher, and another of our choice. From the list, I chose Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, which for the most part went right over my head. For the book of my choice, I chose one of my favorite author’s recent publications, Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore. Having enjoyed many of Murakami’s other books, I was curious to read this one. But upon reading it my curiosity turned into me questioning my motivation for reading the book.

In most of Murakami’s works he explores and questions human nature and our motivation behind things. In the case of Killing Commendatore Murakami deals with the endless curiosity of people, how we always want to know more. For better or worse. Murakami’s perception of why curiosity can become abundantly clear to me in the chapter “Franz Kafka was Quite Fond of Slopes.” In this chapter, the story’s unnamed protagonist has a conversation with the “Commendatore” that starts with the protagonist asking the Commendatore what the inspiration behind a mysterious painting was. To this, the Commendatore replies with an anecdote about Franz Kafka. The story goes that the critically acclaimed author Kafka was fond of slopes, to the point where he would sit and gaze at slopes for hours on end. After telling the protagonist this, the Commendatore asks the protagonist whether or not this fact, as interesting as it is, may change how he perceives Kafka and his work. Of course, it does not. The point of the Commendatore’s story was to point out that not all things need to be known, and even though facts like the one regarding Kafka causes no harm, they are kind of redundant. If anything they just confuse people.

While this chapter isn’t really something worth dwelling over, it got me thinking. At first, I thought about why I am curious about things, and whether or not I need to be. The thought of why I am curious about things raised the question of why I was reading this book in the first place.

When I was first introduced to the author in 10th grade, my English teacher had assigned us with the task of reading a collection of Murakami’s short stories titled The Elephant Vanishes. My teacher at the time introduced the author as a critically acclaimed genius who is on his way to winning a Nobel Prize in literature (not exactly what they said, but it certainly came across this way). Once I started reading I was hooked, and not long after that, I started reading more of Murakami’s works. But now, looking back, I wonder if I would have liked reading this man’s stuff if it had not been for the way in which my English teacher introduced him. Honestly, I don’t think I would have, at least not the same extent as I did.

In truth, I think I fell victim to the halo effect. Simply put, the halo effect is when you perceive things as better or more likable based on their looks or description above anything else. In my case, I think that because of the way this particular author was introduced to me, I made up my mind that I liked the author before I really started reading the book. And this effect was only enforced by many other outside references, like the internet’s obsession with Japanese culture. Or references to Murakami in music (for example, Yung Lean’s 2013 hit “Hurt”).

While this realization was by no means a pleasant one, it didn’t especially bother me. After all, we all are affected by unconscious biases to some extent, be it our taste in music, food, film or anything of the like.

What did, however, bother me was that my bias was not exclusive to small things (books, film, etc.). I fear that the thing in the world I care most about was, also, fueled by a biased, follow-the-leader mentality.

Anyone who knows Will, knows that I dedicate most of my time to climbing. I would go so far as to say that my life revolves around it.

But why do I climb?

What made me take it up?

Did I start because I was good at it? Nope, first time I tried I couldn’t hold onto the wall for more than a second.

Did I join the climbing passage because a friend encouraged me? Nope, I started climbing before I could call anyone in Woodstock a friend.

So what was it? Similar to my interest in Murakami, I believe my interest in climbing came from a bias. More specifically, me “following the herd.” This may strike one as odd at first, as at Woodstock you could count the number of student climbers on one hand. But really, that is exactly why the effects of following the crowd led me to climbing.

Something that most people desire is individuality. People strive to be unique, have a niche. These days, acting “common” is looked down upon and is described with derogatory terms like “poser.” It really is kind of ironic how being unique has become so sought after that it has become a norm that people work towards. And in my case, it was like this for climbing, which was so overlooked that I was drawn into it for the sense of being different. By getting into climbing I believed I was breaking away from the crowd, when in truth, I am still walking in it.

Coming to this conclusion does upset me. But by no means will I ever stop climbing; after all, no matter how I got into it, I still love it. And the same should go for anyone reading this: keep doing what makes you happy. So instead of distancing yourself from things influenced by a bias, be aware of where your biases lie. When making a decision, like making a big purchase, joining a passage or even just choosing a book, take a step back, and think why you are doing what you are doing. Because at the end of the day biases are normal, part of our everyday life, but being aware of them in considerably better than living your life without an understanding of where you as a person are coming from.

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