A filter is a device through which a substance, such as light, water, or thoughts, is passed to remove what we define as “unwanted impurities.” In the sense of a coping mechanism, we filter out unwanted information. That way we can accept and understand whatever we want to. Have you, for example, ever tried to explain something to someone and had them hear only part of it, the part they wanted to hear?
I often find this to be the case when I speak to a group of people comprised of the timber industry, environmental organizations, land-management agencies, city councilors, county commissioners, or personnel in city planning. They each hear what they want to hear in what I say, and they each address these different aspects of my presentation during the question and answer period. The more polarized the audience is, the more predictable are the questions they’re likely to ask.
At times we live as though we’re in a giant “safe” with filters to control what we see, what we hear, and what we feel. In other words, we hear only what we want to hear, see only what we want to see, and feel only what we want to feel. That way we can better accept what we choose, and we don’t have to get out of our comfort zone and be accountable in the world, which is the meaning of the statement: looking at life through rose-colored glasses. Filtering is a common coping mechanism of selective hearing and seeing, as exemplified in two of the three monkeys—hear no evil and see no evil.
But filters can be very frustrating for the person who is trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t want to hear what is being said. And yet we all filter information simply because we have different frames of reference.
Filters in an agency are almost always fully engaged. By filtering the information and hearing only what fits into the homeostatic pattern, agency personnel can dub it “So and So’s unproven hypothesis,” discount it, and be “safe” from having to confront the malfunctional agency “machine” by changing policy to accommodate new data. This type of filtering system to ward off new, imaginative data can’t last indefinitely, however, as observed by the poet William Blake in 1793, “What is now proved was once only imagined.”
Series on Resistance to Change:
Text © by Chris Maser 2010. All rights reserved.
This article is excerpted from my 1994 book, Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics. St. Lucie Press, Boca Raton, FL. 373 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.