The common thread running through my published work involves the impact of unchecked biases. When I refer to bias, I tend to be referring to the differences in perspectives and that which causes such differences. The definition I have consistently used for bias is “an unfair personal opinion that influences your judgment.”
Left unchecked, biases cause people to constrict and distort the information they receive, try to understand, and consider in a fair manner. The more constricted and distorted the information received, understood, and fairly considered, the more impaired the thinking involved.
Long before I started researching and writing about bias and related concepts, I believed that one major cause of such constriction and distortion is increased specialization. I am not suggesting that such increased specialization is all negative. There have most certainly been a great many advancements that have occurred due to such specialization.
However, nobody and nothing is perfect, which means that everyone and everything has strengths and weaknesses – pros and cons. One of the weaknesses associated with specialization is the relationship between specialization and myopia or nearsightedness – “a condition in which someone cannot see things that are far away.” They miss the forest for the trees or lose sight of the big picture. In fact, this is exactly what a liberal arts education is designed to prevent. The problem is that for most of us, our liberal arts education ends upon graduation from college and its value evaporates over time, assuming we received such an education.
Think about perspective as a camera with a zoom lens. The more we zoom in on something, the more surrounding information gets excluded. Additionally, things tend to blur if you zoom in to something too much. Along those lines, consider the following Letter to the Editor of the ABA Journal from Eric Overby in a section titled Letters: Lawyergate Lessons that was published in the August 2012 edition:
“Mr. [John] Dean spoke at my law school circa 1979 and made an indelible impression. To paraphrase, he said that he (and others) didn’t wake up on day and say, ‘Let’s go break the law.’
He said every day, every decision was one step closer to ‘the line.’ Each step was small, but one day he turned around and realized he had long ago crossed the line and didn’t even know it.
I’ve included what Dean said into ethics discussions I’ve led by saying, ‘There are no points awarded for how close you can get to the cliff before you fall over. If you see the cliff, move away from it – not closer to it.”
By the same token, people easily miss information that appears too far away, which is why the zoom feature has such value.
Different people seeing the exact same thing will zoom in to different degrees and take pictures from different angles. As such, the pictures they each take likely contain different sets of information, which results in seeing the same thing in different ways. This is about perspective.
In other words, not even considering the angle, by zooming in too much, the information we receive, understand, and consider becomes both severely constricted and distorted. The more we zoom out, the less constricted and distorted the information we receive, understand, and consider; however, we also fail to see things in sufficient detail, if at all. Furthermore, no matter how much we zoom out and how far back we go to take the picture, we are almost certainly going to constrict information because the frame of the camera lens cannot possibly take in all the information.
When I think of the power of diversity and inclusion, I think of an accumulation of perspectives that comes from viewing information from different distances and angles. People do not know what they do not know, which also means that they do not tend to realize when they are missing or misinterpreting important information.
Receiving, understanding, considering the same perspective from diverse segments of the population fails to leverage the power of diversity and inclusion; rather, it is nothing more than box checking and optics. It is the same as specifically seeking out photographs of the same thing from a variety of people; however, limiting the photographs sought out to those that are all virtually identical, regardless of the diversity of the population taking the picture.
When people provide photographs taken from different distances and angles and some or all of those photographs are excluded because the information causes discomfort by challenging our current perspective, that is constricting the information received, understood, and fairly considered. That said, when someone provides a photograph that is duplicative because the exact same information has already been received, understood, and fairly considered, dismissing the receipt of that information is not constrictive.
Differences in perspective lead to a great deal of conflict because each of us knows what we see or think we see in the pictures we have taken or viewed. Unless we have willfully dismissed photographs taken at certain distances and angles, we have no reason to know that the photographs we have taken or viewed lack context and complexity, some more than others.
Emotional self-awareness or reflective thinking occurs when people have developed the skills and ability to realize on their own that they are missing context and complexity on most everything and, rather than constricting the information they receive, try to understand, and consider in a fair manner, they actively seek it out.
By expanding the metaphor beyond pictures, it applies to everything, including the meaning of any given word and phrase.
People often know when they are constricting the information they are willing to receive, try to understand, and consider in a fair manner. They do this, for example, when they decide that certain people or groups are not entitled to perspectives on certain issues or they dismiss those perspectives. This also includes decision-making when it comes to retaining services and excluding certain people or groups of people from consideration for reasons having nothing to do with their actual competency to perform a certain role. People rationalize doing this because people can rationalize anything, if they try.