So, these European adventurers travel across Africa.
Literally to Timbuktu and back again. It’s the mid nineteenth century and they’re in search of areas they have never been or seen before.
One of the coolest things they found on their epic adventure were these huge 10 foot high stone pillars standing upright. They were always found in pairs. And each pair had a third stone slab that was laid across the top. And in front of each structure there were these big stone blocks with grooved channels carved into them.
The scholars in the group thought they were altar stones for worshipping idols. They wrote in their journals that the channels etched out of the stone were for carrying off the blood of victims from the worshipping process.
These accounts inspired other scholars from Europe to travel to Tripolitania for a more detailed study of the giant megaliths. Multiple new sites were discovered. At one site, 17 of them were found lined up in a perfect row. The second set of scholars identified the ruins as megalithic temples from the same era as Stonehenge. They even recreated the rituals they thought were performed at the giant altars.
Later, a third group of scholars, inspired by the tales of the first two groups, who were slightly more acquainted with mediterranean culture, proved that the structures that were identified as megalithic temples were in fact the remains of Roman olive oil factories.
Not a blood letting idol worshipping temple. Not an Iron Maiden concert.
Supported by big beams of wood, these stone configurations were used to press olives. The altar stones with the grooved channels were not for blood sacrifice at all. They were used to collect freshly squeezed olive oil.
The first two scholars who wrote books about the blood altars were humiliated.
But how did they get it so wrong? They were some of the European elite and products of cutting edge scholarship of the time.
In a word, bias.
Cultural biases clouded their judgement. They were from the wrong environment. They simply couldn’t identify an olive press when it was staring them in the face.
And it’s a cautionary tale.
How can we draw reliable conclusions about anything when the evidence itself is biased? Or, in a more contemporary new media context, deliberately attempting to deceive us.
Today, we have unlimited access to news and data and still, insufficient information. It’s the meaningful part we’re missing. The values and the context together is where insight often comes from.
Today, problems arise when our bias thwarts what we’re trying to achieve.
When our bias stalls our economy; When our bias leads to war; When our bias gets in the way of what’s fair; When our bias stops our society from evolving into something we love; When our bias keeps us from sampling other options; When our bias keeps us from moving forward;
This must be replaced.
And there’s a fine line between the bias that’s set to save the world and the bias that could end it.
The leaders, entrepreneurs, parents and policy makers that care enough to make a difference today are smart enough to embrace the biases that sustain their success and release the rest.
And we all share the opportunity to do the same, together.
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