The Chains of Bias: A tale

22 Nov The Chains of Bias: A tale

The full extent of Systemic Bias is a tough to grasp, it needs really good story to bring it to life. Luckily for us, Socrates told Plato one of the best stories ever told. I will retell it here, but modernised a bit….

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, lived 3 men.  They brothers, born and raised inside a large cave amongst several other cave-people.  But these 3 men were different, because from the moment they were born, they were put in chains and tied to a long, wooden log.  Their heads were fixed in a harness so that they couldn’t turn to look around them.  There was a fire constantly lit behind them, fuelled by the other cavemen and women who roamed freely behind our 3 chained gentlemen.  All the men ever saw were the shadows cast by the fire on the wall.  To the men, these shadows were what people looked like, what they themselves must of looked like.  The fire that burned behind them was given the name ‘The Sun’. It kept them warm and able to see.  The cave where they lived was their entire world.  There was nothing outside of it, nothing beyond it.  This was reality

One day, one of the men awoke from his night’s sleep to find that the chains around him had been removed.  Confused, he stood up slowly, using muscles that he did not know that he had.  He turned around for the very first time and found that he was looking directly at the fire that he called the sun.  He shielded his eyes, thinking it may blind him and gasped at the source of light and of heat itself.  He shut his eyes for a moment to take this sight in, and when he opened them again, there in front of him was a person, in the flesh.  Our man, who we will call Ted, had not the first clue what he was looking at.  What was the strange thing that was moving in front of the fire? Some kind of an alien?  A species from another world? How would he ever be able to describe this ‘thing’ to his brothers back on the log? There is no way they would believe him, they’d think he started drinking again, or lost his mind while he was travelling. 

It took him quite a while for his mind to make sense of what he was seeing, but eventually he did adjust and came to accept that not only did this alien actually exist, but it had many of the same features as his own body.  It took Ted a very long time to understand that the sun was something that was directly behind him, and fed each hour by men and women.  It took much thought before he grasped that the pictures on the wall that he had known for his entire life were not people, but shadows of people.   And finally it took him mental leaps and bounds to believe that there were more people in his world than just himself and his  brothers.

One day, Ted decided to go for a stroll around the cave, meet others and see the site of his newly discovered world.  On his travels, he saw a very bright light located at the far end of the cave.  He sat and watched it for hours on end.  The light would get brighter, changes shades, become pink and then disappear.  What was this incredible force creating this light?  Ted moved closer to it each day, slightly weary of he would find if he got too close.  But one day he took a deep breath, gave himself a wee pep talk and headed into it.

And OMG, Ted was completely blown away by what he saw before him.  He was sure that someone had slipped something into his coffee that morning, he simply had to be hallucinating.  There before him was an enormous, infinite open space filled with foreign but beautiful things.   There were multicoloured flowers, trees of all sorts, there were birds singing in the sky and soft fluffy clouds suspended in mid air.  There were people of all shapes and sizes, there were all kinds of animals waking freely and beautiful bodies of water surrounding him.

For months Ted observed these sights.  It took enormous effort to understand them.  But with time, his mind adjusted and grasped the world around him.  With great effort, Ted managed to shed his limited view of reality in order to take on a new one.  And with a renewed belief and appreciation for the beauty of the world, he excitedly went back into the cave and rushed to tell his brothers all about it!

Ted said: “guys, you’ll never believe this but you know those pictures on the wall…they are nothing like why had thought they were.  Those are not people, they are only shadows of people, we were totally wrong.  And you know the light and heat that come from behind us, that is not the sun, it’s only a fire, something that is quite easy to make actually.  But wait, that is not it, there is much more…  This cave that we live in, it is not the world, there is so much more.  You must see, there are birds, and trees and music and a massive ball of fire in the sky.  There are people, and ….

But Ted never did get to finish his story.  His brothers interrupted him and told him that they did not want to hear such nonsense.   That clearly he had lost his mind and was very unwell.  Ted begged them to believe him, but they only grew more and more angry and told him to leave them alone.  And so Ted untried one of them to see for himself, but as soon as he did,
his brother grabbed the chains from the ground and
strangled Ted
until he was silent.

After, Ted’s brother calmly put the chains back on himself
Sat back down on the log
and continuing to stare at the familiar wall.

A challenge to what we have always known may be scary, but the alternative is even scarier.

A biased system refers to the often-invisible norms within an organisation or society.  They are built into the very fabric of the walls where they are easily hidden.  Anyone outside of these norms will suffer discrimination.  

 These are our chains.  I invite you on a journey to challenge what we have always known, so that we can begin to see the beauty outside our caves.
People cannot change what they cannot see.