We made it.
After a little over an hour, my Grab ride finally brought me to my home in Mandaluyong from my place of work in Taguig. As the trip ended and the driver gave me my change, he was visibly exhausted. He let out a sigh of relief, and said, “Naka-isang oras tayo!”
I replied, “Okay na yan, kuya. Nung isang araw nga, halos dalawang oras kami. Okay na ko.”
We both laughed politely right before I got out of the vehicle.
An Hour in Traffic is Better than Two. But what is the Best?
It’s been some days since the rides, and maybe I’m reflecting on them more than I should, but maybe I can make this thinking productive. So here goes:
Sure. An hour is better than two – especially when it means a shorter trip going home. I AM thankful. But then – should it really take an hour to get home from Taguig to Mandaluyong? And the answer, is NO. Should it take four hours to get from Pasay or Alabang or Makati to somewhere a bit farther to the North like QC? NO.
I was concerned that my gratitude disrupted my sense of what really should be : what we should come to expect out of urban planning, public transportation, and the responsibilities of private corporations to general city welfare.
Too much thinking for a solitary event? Maybe, but think about it some more.
Don’t we do it — all the time?
Other ways we justify what we currently end up with
Not just in terms of time spent in traffic. We do it when we talk about queuing up time: “Okay na yan. Ako nga dati, isang oras pumila. At least ikaw, 30 minutes lang.” We might do it when we talk about sports – particularly when we try to make ourselves feel good about Gilas — “at least, 10 points na lang ang difference. Dati 40 points!” But we should have won that game had we not played selfishly. We might do it when we don’t meet our personal eating goals: “Buti nga one cup of rice na lang ngayon at walang dessert. Dati two cups.” But in fact, you weren’t allowed to eat rice anymore! Or maybe we do it when we compare relationships, “At least ito, hindi cheater.” But he still has to change his attitude about his temper! Or perhaps we even do it to justify how we view political choices, “okay na yan, at least ngayon mas safe na sa mga streets,” or “Buti nga ngayon mas may pakialam na ang gobyerno sa tao.”
As Pinoys, we do it when use the words, “Buti nga ngayon…” or “At least…” or “Pasalamat ka na diyan…”and other variations.
It seems that we bloat how negative the past was, in order for us to be grateful about the present.
Because there doesn’t seem to be a name for it yet (PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG!), so in the meantime, I’d like to call this the “Present Perfect Bias.”
The Present Perfect Bias
Well, I think I’ve really escalated it a lot now. But let me push it some more. A bit (and really, just a bit) of desk research and my experience in marketing communications tell me that the Present Perfect Bias is a cocktail of some forms of the following:
Reverse rosy retrospection –
There is a type of cognitive bias that seems to put the past in a picture more beautiful than it really was. This is called “rosy retrospection. “ They call the past, “the good old days.” They sure were old, but were they really that good? Take a look at the “Make America Great Again” campaign, which tries to do this. Think about all the times grandparents say, “Nung panahon namin…” as if their “time” whenever it was, was idyllic.
My points above – are reverse. We color the past in mud, so much so that the present looks better. It really might be better —- one hour is still better than two, mind you. But it also refrains us from seeing and solving the problem.
Confirmation bias –
We try to justify our decision in such a way that we warp all the other details. “Yeah, this red cap is redder than all the other red caps.” Or maybe “this food is exactly what I wanted. Not that other one. I wouldn’t have been as full.” Or even “this President is okay, I guess. At least he’s transparent.”
You can even say it’s a way to justify purchase behavior, if you want to put it in marketing-speak. No one wants to feel the slightest cognitive dissonance in how we chose, so we make it easier on ourselves by doing mental gymnastics.
So we do the same with the past. In order to justify present behavior.
Toxic optimism –
This is where it gets dicey. There has already been much (and good!) talk about how we should stop glorifying how “resilient” the Filipino spirit is, and how buoyant our spirits are even despite floods and earthquakes and other calamities. We have this tremendous capacity as a people to look at the upside — but this has led to abuse by those in power.
We keep looking at the upside, and even do so using religious jargon and lenses, to the point that we fail to see problems as they are. So we are abused by our leaders who pacify us with mud-covered pictures of the past, and forced gratefulness.
We have this toxic optimism that disables us from being able to perceive the right problems and solving them. For that one moment after the Grab ride, I forgot that it SHOULD NOT take an hour from BGC to Mandaluyong, and that it is a problem we have to fix. Regardless if it took two hours some days before.
The Use of the Bias
Well, of course, the Present Perfect Bias allows me to breathe a bit easier, sigh in relief a bit more, and just get to sleep sooner. It allows me to thank my Grab driver and put a smile on his face a bit more frequently.
But we have to keep balancing it with truth. As with other biases, we have to keep having accurate pictures of situations in front of our faces if we are really going to be able to solve the problems that beset our age.
Some ways to deal with it
Here are a few personal guidelines I’m going to try to follow in checking this bias but still having a thought process that allows me to remain hopeful. If it works for you, let me know!
- First, we have to be aware of it.
We need to know what it is – or its other forms above, and the instances wherein we are susceptible to it: fake news to justify political errors? Relationships? Intoxicatingly optimistic people around you? Are you even using it to justify procrastination?
The first step to solving a problem is knowing what the problem is. The next and more crucial step is to acknowledge it as a problem.
- Let facts and hope come into dialogue.
Okay, so the current situation IS an improvement over the past one (one hour is better than two in traffic!). Okay, but we still need to fix this ONE hour travel time, right?
Well, how long SHOULD it take? I should research that. What is the actual distance? A simple look at Waze or Google Maps should help me with that. What is the average time it now takes for someone like me to go back and forth? I can note that down. Does time of day affect it? In short, I need to collect as many facts as I can. Why? So I know how my facts and feelings are related.
But I do this not so I can remain pessimistic. Or to be forever guarded against any glimmer of hope.
Rather, I should do this precisely because I am hopeful that solutions can and will come.
- I am able to put my gratitude in a humbling context – which in turn allows me to serve.
We throw around the word “blessing” a lot these days. We just usually mean “something good happened” when affix #blessed to our post.
I could of course say, “Wow. It took me just one hour instead of two!” OF COURSE I am thankful. OF COURSE it was a blessing.
BUT – if I am able to see the bigger context of the blessings, I am humbled too, by the facts:
- That I was given a gift! Sure, God did it. But the driver, the enforcers, guards — so many people (who might not have even known they were helping me!) did so much just to get me home. What a humbling fact.
- BUT there are still many things to be done to get home at the right hour.
- That there are still many more people who need help.
- That as much as I have been given more time and insight into the problem, maybe I can use this to help others get home sooner as well.
The present might indeed be better than the past. And we MUST be grateful for that. But if it does so in a way that allows us to justify injustices and prolong procrastination, then like all biases, this kind of view stumps us.
Perhaps most importantly, we are a people with a propensity to see the better side of the facts – no matter how grim they may be. To the point that our blind side cages us.
We need to balance this optimism bias with the humbling weight of facts.