Kissing Bugs or Battling Insects – A lesson in unconscious bias

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When I saw the two green bugs connecting on the day I took the picture, the first thing that went through my head was: “they are kissing”. At the time, I was very much in love with my then boyfriend. I realise now looking back that I saw the world through those rose-tinted glasses of love or in this case green tinted glasses.

That got me thinking.

What drives our perspective and the meaning we make of what we see, hear or experience?

I immediately came up with one meaning on witnessing the ‘kissing bugs’. Yet there could have been so many other perspectives. A friend, I showed this picture to, immediately had a very different idea of what was going on for the two little green bugs on that green leafy plant’s branch.

Let’s use “the kissing bugs” as an example.

What other meanings could there be?

  • They were just saying hello to each other – this is a form of communication for them,
  • They were getting ready for battle, trying to push each other of the stem,
  • They were pushing against each other, testing each others strength,
  • It is part of a mating ritual,
  • There were biting each other,
  • They were handing over forward from one to the other, as birds do when feeding their young,
  • …… and, I’m sure there many more meanings you and I could make.

Another great example is the glass being half full or half empty. This is often used as a metaphor for optimism versus pessimism. Yet, there are other possible meanings of a glass that is filled 50% with water, for example:

  • Someone just quenched their thirst with half of the water that was in the glass and left 50% behind to drink later,
  • It does not matter how much is left in the glass, it is refillable booth company,
  • There is space for more new things to come in,
  • If we equate water with wine, the 50% could have been intentional – just the right level. When it comes to serving good wine, the glasses are never filled full to the brim. Otherwise the wine wouldn’t be able to breathe properly.,
  • If we wanted to put the flour in that class, use it as a vase, we will fill the glass and ascend anyway. We probably would fill it for around 50%.
  • ….what other meanings can you come up with?

What’s the science behind meaning making?

Science tells us that we make meaning of anything around us and within us based on a number of unconscious filters we automatically apply so quickly, we don’t even notice that there. This is what’s also called an unconscious bias.

These filters are made up of three main categories: (find some research)

  1. Memories of similar experiences and meanings we made before – the brain just applies them to a situation that appears similar
  2. Values, beliefs & cultural norms based on teachings from those closest to us, our observations and experiences throughout our childhood  – our brain has made these universal and takes them as truth
  3. Preferences that we were born with of how we like to experience the world and how we like to be interact with it

As I mentioned before, we are often not consciously aware of most of these filters.

What does this matter, anyway?

As long as the meaning that you make, serves you, it does not matter. It might even be advantageous as it allows us to quickly assess a situation and act on it according to the meaning we make.


  • when we make a meaning it excludes all the other choices you could make. It may rob you of opportunities for learning, expansion or even making money that you otherwise would have missed.
  • when we make a meaning we may not realise we are making it based on false or outdated information as it happens when we act on prejudices from the olden days about race, gender and other areas of diversity
  • when we make a meaning it might lead us to an action that may not be as effective as another action might be to get us close to the result we want – there might be a better way

How do we expand our capacity of perspectives and thus our choices?

That is easy!

Step 1: Keep asking:

  • what else could this mean?
  • what other perspectives could I adopt?
  • how could this be interpreted by someone else?

Treat it as a game with as many situations as you can. You might even designate a specific day of the month, or a specific hour in the week to practice this. You will find that the more you practice the easier it will become.

Not only will this expand your mind, bring new opportunities into your life and relieve stress, it will also increase your creativity and innovative abilities.

Step 2: Next question:

  • which of the meanings I have come up with serve me best?
  • what does each meaning close down or open up for me?
  • how would it be if I adopted a different meaning now?

These questions help to identify if your original meaning serves you. If it does no longer serve you, i.e. another meaning is more useful to you or now rings more true, then you have an opportunity for a shift in your thinking.

Do we have to adopt a different perspective?

No, it is OK to have a perspective and stick with it. What is important though is, that we consciously own that perspective and are aware what the meaning we make closes down or opens up for us. It is also important to be clear as to what impacts and consequences our actions based on the meaning we make have on us and on others around us.

Personally, I still love the idea of the two bugs kissing. And, for me it does not matter whether the glass is half full or half empty – that is irrelevant. I can always refill it anyway.

Those are the meanings I am making for now as they serve me at this moment in time. I also hold the possibility of there being a multitude of other meanings and open to changing my mind.

What’s your preferred meaning?

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