Father Knows (You) Best

Dear Daughters,

“Anyone who doesn’t like you is an idiot.”

So I said to one of you earlier this week. And so I’ve said to each of you at some point (perhaps not in so many words). The reply I heard back–“you’re my father; you’re biased”–is both true and misleading.

It’s true that I’m your father, and that I’m therefore less-than-objective when it comes to judging you. But it’s misleading to think that objectivity is always what you want in a judge. In fact, when it comes to assessing you as a person, my opinion should count more than those of others, not less. After all, I’m the expert.

When Bias is Bad

Without question, bias is generally a bad thing when it comes to judging other people. No matter where we’re from or how pure our intentions are, our brains tend to forge imaginary links between superficial cues and factually unrelated characteristics. We jump to conclusions, or at least begin to make assumptions, based on what little we see–and whether we know it or not.

Anyone who cares about judging others fairly should be on guard against such biases, especially when they’re tied to systematic injustices like racism and sexism. But note that this sort of bias doesn’t come into play when I make my judgments about you.

After all, I’m not reading you according to superficial cues. On the contrary, I know you in your full depth and complexity. I have a hard-won, in-depth understanding of your habits, characteristics, tendencies, etc. I am, if I may say so, a leading expert on you.

Understanding is Good

As I noted above, this doesn’t mean that my opinions about you are “objective,” in the sense of emotionally detached or disinterested. They certainly aren’t. But that’s precisely the point. The idea of assessing a person–not a body part or a set of cells, or a particular act or behavior, but a whole human being–from a position of disinterest and detachment is itself fundamentally flawed.

Without becoming deeply interested and emotionally involved, you simply cannot know another person. Not in the sense that matters here. Not in the way that’s necessary to pass a well-informed, genuine judgment about them.

We both know that I’m not blind to your faults:  If I were, then you wouldn’t have to get annoyed every time I try to help you correct them. I just see those faults as part of a bigger, beautiful, deeply lovable picture. And the fact that I see that bigger picture doesn’t undercut my opinion of you; it enriches it.

My deep subjective connection to you, in other words, is part and parcel of what makes my opinion of you worth taking seriously. People who might judge you “objectively” are actually in no position to judge you at all. Their biases, based on superficial cues, are likely to lead them astray. My care for you leads me closer to the truth.

And with that, I’ll say again what I said to begin with: Anyone who doesn’t like you is an idiot.

As for me…

I like you. I like you a lot.

Love,

Dad

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