Perspective: Bias, Vantage Point, and Personal Experience

Do you ever hear an older married couple tell the story of how they met? The husband begins telling it one way, and the wife will tell it another way. Both people were there for the same event but highlight different elements of the story to convey what they deem is truth. This assumes they both have perfect memories, which we know is not the case for most people. So which version of the story is most accurate? Are both people right, wrong, or does the “truth” lie some where in between the two?

One of philosophy’s oldest questions is, “What is truth?”. Since it was first asked many answers have come and even more questions. Old parables about trees falling in the woods and people hearing them is a common way of posing the question of absolute truth. That is,the question of whether truth lies within human knowledge or experience or if it exists independent of our awareness of it.

Another idea is that the truth lies within us and is tied to us individually. This means that there can be as many truths as there are minds to hold them and each is relative to the person whom hold them. Such is the case with statements like “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Before we begin digging in to this powerful question and others regarding to beauty, goodness, and truth we have to know where we are starting from. An absolute truth must come from a common or fixed reference point, but a personal truth is referenced individually. So how can we ever agree on what is best or “right” if we all have our own versions of the truth.

I am so very interested in this idea, because I know that things look different based on where you are looking at them. If you take a peek at a sweater under I microscope, it may look like a forest, and yet if you take a look at a forest from a telescope, it may look like a sweater. It matters so much about how close or far you are from the object but also how much you know about it.

This effects us every day in how we treat each other. When cultures and customs intermix, so do expectations and individual power can also can skew our outlook on situations as well. This matters when it comes to all of the important “isms” we traverse in society, be it race, sex, and class, our perspective frames what we view as acceptable behavior. It will force us to look at commonly held notions of harassment and even basic courtesy.

One of my biggest concerns is the idea that we all must come to a consensus, as we discussed in October, there can be instances when we are able to find harmony with all our different ideas. But as we’ve learned in September, there are also plenty of times that we will have to resolve those incongruencies through conflict.

I wonder if our accumulation of more knowledge and experience moves us closer to absolute truth, as some atomists might suggest. Or if we can only find a truth when we learn to accept everyone’s individual accounts as worthwhile. Still, there are those that wonder, if it is even possible for the truth to exist inside the human mind because of our natural inclination to be self-preserving creatures.

No matter who we are, we bring a bias to our version of truth based on where we have come from and where we would like to go. We need to discuss that as much as we need to discuss how our proximity to the objects and issues changes our view of them. And, it would be a disservice to the conversation to avoid talking about how our personal experience influences that bias.

Since we all have these different places we begin from, it may shed light on why we have difficulty arriving at the same place especially if our desired destination may not even be the same. This month, we will traverse the hills and valleys of our individual perspectives seeking to uncover some insights about how we all view the world.

If there ever were a chance to walk a few steps in someone else’s shoes, we will surely attempt to take it in the next 4 weeks.

Thank you for coming along on the journey.


Maceo Paisley
Founder, Citizens Of Culture