Changing Our Default Settings

There are many ways that computers mimic us. Our brains are the OG original central processing unit. We run programs, both hardware in the form of our DNA, and software in the form of our beliefs. And it is our beliefs that shape our “default settings.”

Just as with computer software, our programs (aka beliefs) need regular updating. However, just like with computers, there are many of us who don’t run the updates as often as necessary. Without regular updates, we are more susceptible to viruses, malware, and malfunctioning systems.

Now, I personally believe in the goodness of my fellow humans and have been proven right on this time and time again. I have also found that most people’s default setting is to think of their fellow humans as “crazy” or to treat them with suspicion, doubt, fear. Indeed, we have a heightened fear of strangers. However, the truth is that most people are cool.

At the same time, I will disclose that I am not automatically trusting of people. Earning my confidence is a long game affair. Yet still, my default for people is set to believing in their inherit goodness.

This doesn’t mean they won’t hurt me or cause harm, whether intentional or not. It doesn’t mean that through the course of knowing each other, we won’t have conflict. I have found that people want to believe in their own goodness, even if they believe everyone else to be ill suited.

I have done things both careless and sometimes just dumb, like forgetting I set my wallet with more cash than I usually carry on top of a car and drove off, only to have people come through and have everything returned to me.

People help people. This is also seen after an emergency disaster. Yet our default belief is to write people off as bad, dangerous, risky.

It’s not that bad things don’t happen, or dangerous people don’t exist. It’s that they’re the minority, not the majority. Do we need to be smart, stay aware of our surroundings, and exercise caution when things don’t feel right? Absolutely. Do we take precautions to limit our risk and exposure to dangerous situations or people? Yes.

But we need to be real about which deserves to be our default belief. And in truth, the ideal would be to not have default beliefs that blind us from seeing people for who they reveal themselves to be, whether in the subtleties or transparently.

Indeed, neutral, open, reflective discernment can go along way in keeping us safe. Yet, as is common in our society, people have default beliefs, preconceptions of others often taking the form of stereotypes. We pass judgment quickly and aren’t open to much.

When it comes to sexual assault, our default settings need a serious upgrade.

Fact: Only 2-10% of sexual assault allegations turn out to be false.

That means that at least 90% of the time, people are telling the truth. The overwhelming majority of people. If it were a school grade, it would be the all-coveted A.

Yet, our general default is set to doubt.

Why? In some instances, self-interest. Fear it could happen to them. In other instances, larger guiding beliefs or fears may be guiding the crusade.

For instance, the steadfast and diligent defense of the 3-10% risk of false accusations in one man I know stems from his growing up in a country and culture of people disappearing because neighbors made false accusations against their loyalty to the country. He has seen in real tangible ways the extreme impact of false accusations.

However, as Sandra Newman explores in her article What kind of person makes false rape accusations?, false rape accusations almost never have serious consequences for those accused. When we consider how few rape cases, even when guilt is clear, get any kind of serious sentencing, this doesn’t seem so surprising.

Moreover, Newman paints the portraits of those who make false accusations, primarily young teenage girls trying to stay out of trouble and adults who commit other forms of criminal fraud. They have four categories of motivation: “personal gain, mental illness, revenge, and the need for an alibi.”

The impact of our default settings when it comes to sexual assault allegations, as Newman writes, is to “help real rapists escape justice, while perversely making it more likely that we will miss the signs of false reports.”

Our default needs to be to believe survivors of sexual assault, whether a woman, man, or child. If it proves out that it was a false accusation, then there should be restoration. But our default, and our beliefs, need upgrading.