Do Our Biases Get in the Way?
There was a statement made this past Monday (9/12), in the 9:35 section, that people “color their world with their own opinions and ideas.” This is an observation I have also came to notice but never thought about vocalizing until two weeks ago. As I was looking through the blog about “Recognizing Patient form Person” and its comments, I noticed that the ideas and ethical standards from the two time periods (Henrietta’s time and the present) seemed to flow together. One of the comments said, “…I do agree that the volunteers and nurses should have had a closer connection to Henrietta the person, instead of Henrietta’s cells.” Another comment said, “…Skloot speaks only briefly to the behavior and intentions of hospital employees…”It seems to me that people not only color the world they live in with their ideals and opinions, but that we, in general, look at history through those same lenses.
I am guilty of this, especially when it comes to my favorite period of history, the Cold War. But here’s the kicker, if we look at history through the lens of our modern ideals and ethics, or even through the lenses of our own personal opinions, don’t we color history? I Googled “quotes on history” and after some digging around I found these two quotes:
“The first law of history is to dread uttering a falsehood; the next is not to fear stating the truth; lastly, the historian’s writings should be open to no suspicion of partiality or animosity.” Leo XIII
“One of the difficulties with written history is that it describes events far more systematically than they were originally experienced. Often, it is only after the tide of history has swept out a governmentor changed old ways of thinking that we see any patterns in the events by which change was accomplished, and then we are apt to write as if that pattern has been evident from the beginning.” Kai Erikson
These two quotes bring up the points that: one, there is always, or should always, be a fear of recounting history inaccurately, and two, that everything is always simpler in hindsight. I guess what I am trying to say is that, when we read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, we should be mindful that the historical events occurred under socio-cultural conditions different than out own and that, because of these differences, we are bound to see things as being ethically wrong by our standards. But with the time difference, we will not and cannot always know what someone’s intentions were.
Please comment on this and let me know what you think about interpreting history. Do you think that personal feelings get in the way of accurately looking at historical events?