A Perspective Check

Do you believe everything you think? 

When's the last time you engaged in a perspective check? How about the last time you asked yourself if something you believed to be true about the world was actually true? If you can't remember the last time, don't feel bad. It's actually not something we are often encouraged to do on a regular basis. Biases and preconceptions are just part of who we are as humans. 

perspectivecheckIt is in our nature to label something and then move on to the next. I imagine it started out as a great evolutionary skill. The ability to quickly identify something as safe or not safe and keep going would allow us to expand our territory more rapidly and be more efficient in our development. But what happens when we don’t realize this is what we are doing and we begin to live our lives from a particular perspective without knowing the impact it has on our entire world? When is the last time you asked yourself if your perspective was true?

perspective algaeWe develop preconceived ideas and hone our perspective as individuals, as groups, and even as entire cultures. I came across an article not long ago that was a prime example of an unconscious group perspective.  The title is: They Hunt, They Kill, They Cheat: Single-Celled Algae Shed Light On Social Lives of Microbes. I chose to read the article because I was so curious about the title.  The article is interesting, probably fascinating for people in that field of science but for me it held an entirely different fascination. I think more than anything it illustrates a very critical point about how we identify and label things and then shape our ideas, thoughts, questions and belief systems around that identification. 

Here's a rundown of the gist of the article so this all begins to make sense. Researchers have discovered within the observed communities of toxic single-celled algae there happen to be a certain few that develop without toxins, they are rogue in a sense, toxin free and yet they still thrive within their community. Not only that, they have noted that the non-toxic algae end up living longer than their toxic counterparts and continue reproducing when die-off for everyone else begins to occur. The researchers involved in the study have given the non-toxic algae the label of “cheaters”, likening them to free-loaders, benefiting from the hard work of their peers while contributing nothing. They further discuss their longevity and ability to continue reproducing similar to cancerous growth.

perspective scientistThe peer-reviewed article goes on to discuss how they will continue to study these ‘free-riding’ organisms and define questions for further research. I was completely enthralled, not by the content, but by what seemed to me as an absolute bias. Each question was based on viewing these organisms from a negative anthropomorphic viewpoint; ‘cheaters’ and ‘cancerous’. I have no doubt their investigation will be scholarly and thorough...however, here’s my point; what happens to the study outcomes when there is the unconscious bias that these cells are negative low life’s within their community? These researchers are viewing the community from an external vantage point with no idea of what is really happening within the community and applying a judgment based on their internal belief systems. Will that impact all the outcomes? You bet it will. Just as it does in your world when you apply pre-judgments to situations you encounter within your day to day life.

HHDalaiLamaSo for fun, let's flip the script and put a twist on the perspective; what if these non-toxic cells are the Gandhi’s and the Dalai Lama’s of the algae world? What if the other cells rely on their ability to be neutral and resilient, giving them hope that things can be different? What if they are trying to get the other cells to see the error of their toxic and carnivorous ways and live a more peaceful life? What if the reason they are more resilient and can continue to reproduce is because they aren’t like their mean and nasty toxic neighbors? Sound crazy? It’s no crazier than assuming they are cheating free-loaders; simply a change of perspective. So, here’s a little reminder as you go through your day sure that life is just the way you believe it is; pay attention to how you identify and label things because quite often just shifting the title can shift your entire world experience.

References:

Driscoll, W.W., Espinosa, N.J., Eldakar, O.T., & Hackett, J.D (2013). Allelopathy as an emergent, exploitable public good in the bloom-forming microalgaprymnesium parvum. Evolution. doi: 10.1111/evo.12030

University of Arizona (2013, January 18). They hunt, they kill, they cheat: Single-celled algae shed light on social lives of microbes.

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