Breaking Bias

Breaking bias

Full Definition of BIAS

1
:  a line diagonal to the grain of a fabric; especially :  a line at a 45 degree angle to the selvage often utilized in the cutting of garments for smoother fit
a :  bent, tendency

b :  an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment :  prejudice

 

c :  an instance of such prejudice

d (1) :  deviation of the expected value of a statistical estimate from the quantity it estimates (2) :  systematic error introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others

4
a :  a voltage applied to a device (as a transistor control electrode) to establish a reference level for operation

b :  a high-frequency voltage combined with an audio signal to reduce distortion in tape recording

It seemed timely to post about bias because of the turmoil that is going on in Ferguson right now, that and a tortured call from my eldest son at 4 in the morning who, while trying to be the voice of fact and reason, was obliterated by a friend who challenged him as a privileged white person with deep racial overtones.  Understandably,  he is nothing like that, we didn’t raise him that way, but upsetting nonetheless.  It isn’t always helpful in the face of such raw emotion to be challenged on the lack of factual information.  Ferguson triggered a  powder keg of emotions that have been festering for a long time .  Justifiable or not, this kind of raw emotionally charged situation, already escalated by a media that capitalizes on frenzied, angry incitement and violence, has to be approached with the delicacy of a political surgeon, and not by online postings that polarize the situation further.  The horrible events that happened that day were so entrenched in a long history that none of us were directly involved in and can ever know accurately.  Telling someone in the throws of that kind of emotion to calm down or keep a level head, no matter how well intended, never sits well.

All of us are bias.  It is the inevitable result of a solitary perspective.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing…just a simple truth.  But to perpetuate that singular perspective by insulating yourself with only those who think like you do is how situations in Ferguson get out of control.  I’ve always told my children that true empathy must be rooted in caring for another plus factual information about something you’re not directly involved in because it will give you the necessary tools to help more effectively.  I had a great Evidence prof in law school that hammered that notion home: if information presented does not lead to the truth of the matter at hand, it should be excluded.  It is also why we don’t watch Fox news or MSNBC at my house…they are too biased, and often irreverently so.  I’m sure that will get me in trouble with some, but hey…I’m one of those fools who actually believes that the truth will set me free.

I don’t know how to solve the problems in Ferguson, it’s horrifying to watch and so beyond my wheelhouse of experience that it feels almost impossible to find the truth I desperately need to broaden my perspective.  Everywhere I turn I see bias that distorts whatever truth may exist out there.  That isn’t an excuse to forgo any conversation, because while I may never know what really happened there, I do know that addressing issues dealing with race, violence, police mistrust and the questionable way this whole crisis was handled have to be part of the solution.  I won’t say that level heads must prevail because that would be my bias…but I will say for those of us on the outside who cannot offer any solutions at this point, we should shut up and listen more, that would certainly go along way for the people of Ferguson.

 

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