A Way Wherein There Is No Ecstasy

A Way Wherein There Is No Ecstasy August 28, 2018
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again,
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
 – TS Eliot, “East Coker”

I read a piece today on countering bias in medical care and other contexts using the “inverse rule.”

Kristen Pressner, Global Head Human Resources, at Roche Diagnostics has a simple solution to battling unconscious bias: Flip it to test it. If Leesha’s doctors had stopped and said, “would I be sending a skinny man home with this blood pressure or would I investigate?” she would (most likely) have gotten treatment much sooner.
“Different Point of View” Creative Commons photo by Simon Powell, via Flickr


Inversion works really well for a lot of things where it is important to avoid confirmation bias, or even just to find new approaches for familiar problems. In the wake of Bp. Vigano’s letter against Pope Francis, and the responses to it, I submit that we need a variation on this when responding to allegations of wrongdoing. I call it “split the difference.”


It works like this: When someone you dislike or distrust is accused of something heinous, and you want to call for their immediate resignation/flogging/pillorying in the public square, stop and ask yourself, “If someone accused a long-time, trusted friend of this, how much care would I want taken with the investigation, and how much benefit of the doubt would I be inclined to give?” And then find the middle ground between the two responses.


Vice versa applies if someone you like and trust is the accused. Flip the victim and the accused in your head. What if someone you liked were the victim, and someone you disliked were the accused? What if someone you liked were the accused, and someone you distrusted was the purported victim? What’s the middle ground between those things?


Hopefully, when you split the difference, you wind up with something that is thorough, but realistic; that takes every allegation seriously, but takes the necessity of investigation seriously too; that tests everything before judging one way or the other, not out of faint-heartedness or distaste for drama, but out of fear of the bias that you know influences everyone (yourself included) in some measure.


This is an uncomfortable point of view to maintain.



“Verity – Both sides now,” Creative Commons photo by Barry Macdonald, via Flickr.


This is a “way wherein there is no ecstasy”–no exaltation of righteous indignation, no satisfying vengeance, no thrill of battle, no tribal certainties, no blazing heroics.


It is uncomfortable, because it doesn’t provide quick closure or a sense of resolution. The answers you get may feel unsatisfying or take a long time, and will often depend upon people caring and following through with a matter long after the 24 hour news cycle has moved on. Constructive, unbiased problem-solving needs to be fuelled by something longer-lasting than outrage or defensiveness. 


Increasingly, I think it’s worth developing a slight bias towards uncomfortable paths. I’ve found that growth often lies in being willing to bear the discomfort of a long journey towards revelation and resolution.


Stay alert, to be sure. Be ready for whatever you might find. If you are in a position to do so, investigate with unflinching resolve to go wherever truth takes you. And if you must wait while others investigate, then,
…be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

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