Friday, September 30, 2011

The need to look again

In development, in Ghana, in life; I believe we need to take time to look again.

Often times, at first glance we see something and from there we begin to draw conclusions and make assumptions that forever influence us. We can end up reinforcing perceptions that are actually not true. Some call it Confirmation bias

In the context of my life here, I see it so often. I realize I may sound like a broken record, and I've likely blogged on this before but it can be very frustrating when people don't take the time to analyze, to reflect, to check if what they believe is actually true. I believe in Development we need to move towards more thoughtfulness, openness, and humility. We need to be ever ready to question ourselves and our work. Question our assumptions, the hypotheses that are underlying the projects we are implementing. Especially when working in a culture that is foreign from your own, you need to have the humility to recognize when you've misjudged, and the courage to go back and try something different having assimilated the learning from your failure.

I have always been fascinated by this photo, but just recently discovered that it potentially dates back to 1888! It seems people for centuries have been fascinated by the ability to comprehend 2 contradicting perceptions at once. When you first glance at the photo, you can be so persuaded that it is a picture of an old, ugly woman. Someone can try to convince you that it is actually a beautiful young lady and you will think they are a fool, until you really take the time and suddenly AH HA! You have seen that it is true!

Our perceptions in the world are often like this. Sometimes it is so hard to see the other side of the picture because you are fixated on the image you first saw. However, seeing only one side does not negate the fact that the other side exists. This co-existence of 2 contrasting realities is so intriguing to me.
Something you deem to be so beautiful, may upon further scrutiny and new eyes reveal something more difficult to look at. Yet still, we cannot be satisfied with the young beautiful girl, and be blind to the reality that is the old woman.

It is my hope that the development community can strive to always bear in mind all that is poverty and development; the good, the bad, the ugly. I hope that we can take the extra time to step back and re-examine, and be willing to put aside the initial perception, even if it is exchanged for something less romantic or beautiful.


  1. This was beautiful. It was singled out because recently in my engineering class they show us this picture almost every class to remind us that things aren't black and white, but that is how we have been trained to conceptualize it and understand it. And as engineers and functioning intellectuals in society it is necessary to remind ourselves that we fail all the time, but not because it is wrong but because it is what must be overcome. That is why I love EWB so much! I hope you are well and I hope you keep fighting the good fight!

  2. Robin that is actually amazing and that picture teaches us to be tolerant and be dynamic. in fact respect of each order views is crucial. i was just telling my girlfriend to start seeing things differently from the way i see it and we can always make that good decisions.