Monday, February 25, 2013

How context shapes a perspective

What you see is what you believe. But seeing something is sometimes not enough. You need to know the context behind that something to know the truth.
Allow me to jump to an example. You get down from a train and see a crowd encircling 2 guys. Let’s call them guy A and guy B. You move towards the crowd to find that A is thrashing B and B is crying, is begging for help and has begun bleeding. No one is coming forth to help B and you tend to feel sad for him. Right now you’re on B’s side and want to jump in and protect him from A because A is the villain. Hold that thought.
This time let’s take a more relatable example. Suppose you switch on the news channel one day and a famous politician in your country is being alleged and questioned for corruption. You always thought of the politician as non-corrupt but this recent news has shocked you and you now doubt his honesty. The next time you cast a vote, you do not choose him. Do you think you made the right decision?
This is how mindsets are shaped. We believe what we are made to believe. We tend to reach conclusions too fast and thus ignore the truth. Consider company A’s revenues grew by 10% this year and company B’s revenues grew by 40%. It’s obvious that the first thing that comes to our mind is that company B was more successful this year. But we fail to consider the context. Perhaps company A’s revenues were $10mn previous year, so this year it has reached $11mn whereas company B’s revenues were $10,000 previous year, so this year B has reached $14,000. We’re comparing company A’s growth of a million dollars to company B’s growth of $4,000. Clearly, growing by a million is much more laudable than growing by $4,000 (I agree it’s contentious that who’s more successful here but that’s not the point!). The point here is that we feel 40% growth is better than 10% growth, but it may not always be the case.
We shouldn’t jump to conclusions with half information. Half information is often more dangerous than no information. And this is where most journalists shape the perspective of the viewers. Media usually molds the views of an entire nation. It’s supposed to be as unbiased as possible and should be responsible enough to find the context and authenticity of each piece of news. But media in most countries doesn’t operate in this way. They show us information which is not the whole truth and hence is misleading. I’m not saying media is always deceptive and misguiding, but it surely does have the power to do so.
Now let’s go back to our examples. In the first example, you want to help guy B, but you want to clarify first before jumping in. So you ask an onlooker and he tells you that A caught B touching an adolescent gal inappropriately in public. Listening to this your perspective changes dramatically and all your sympathy for B turns into animosity. Now you want to support A in beating up B. This is the perfect example of how context shapes one’s perspective. (In this scenario, supporting either of them is wrong as A should have informed the cops and handed B over to them instead of taking things into his own hands.) Through this example, I didn’t want to justify each person but instead wanted to portray how our emotions drive our thinking without getting to the root of the situation.
In the second example about the good politician turning corrupt, the truth could be that his colleague from the opposition party staged this whole story to win the upcoming elections. The politician in the story was actually an honest person but he was made to look like the bad guy by the media and thus ended up losing your valuable vote.
So the next time you see something or learn something, try to understand the context behind it and not just believe what’s presented to you, because what you see can be a well constructed deception!


  1. Simple concept, even more simplified! Nicely written...

    1. Thanks Rohit.
      Would you like to be a guest blogger and share your thoughts here as well? :)