November 27, 2005
A term often used in the modern theory and practice of conflict resolution is “partisan perceptions”. To some it carries a ring of academic jargon, but in practice it’s at the very heart of creating mutual understanding between parties in conflict, a vital step in moving toward resolution.
Partisan perception refers to the fact that we all have unconscious and sometimes hidden biases about how we see the world, which drives our sense of “the truth”. These biases exist because “what we see” is shaped in large measure by the lens through which we view a situation. This lens is determined by our personal history and our beliefs, among many other things. For example, how might you see a rainforest? It may have one reality if you’re an ecologist or climatologist. But it’s entirely another if you’re a Brazilian land developer, a coffee grower, or a timber executive. (If you looked at a project deadline, what does it look like if you were a senior executive in charge? A project manager, someone in marketing, or a venture capitalist/investor?)
Ingo Gunther is someone who directly challenges people with the question of how they see the world. He is described as an artist, correspondent, and author. Ingo lives in New York, but was born in Germany, traveled throughout Africa, is an accredited correspondent at the U.N., and has worked in Japanese television South America and Asia. He also founded the first independent TV station in Eastern Europe, nine months before the reunification of Germany. Ingo is someone who has seen the world through many lenses. (An interesting interview from a writer in Japan is here.)
Here is an example of a globe from Ingo’s “Worldprocessor” art exhibit. This one is called High Tension / Crisis Zones. The highlighted areas indicate where political crises have developed military aspects. When you look at information presented this way, you get a different perspective about our world and along with it, a different feeling.
Ingo’s globes are illustrated and painted in ways you would never have imagined. At night, about 20 of them lit an eerie presence heading into a dinner event at the POPTech Conference in Camden Maine. In the dark night, their glow gave us a feeling of being giant space aliens walking though the solar system, looking at this planet Earth and seeing its multiple realities.
I don’t know that Ingo had the theory of partisan perceptions in mind when he created these sculptures. And I don’t imagine that professionals in the technology field would have an analog quite like Ingo’s globes to remind us that our perception of facts and truth are profoundly governed by just that – our perception, and the pool of data that may be available to us that shapes our inferences and associated biases. (Think WMD…)
All I do know is that I have this reminder in my head of this reality, ever since meeting Ingo for lunch last month, seeing his art and hearing his speech. After the conference, Ingo and I wrote to each other. I told him that I would blog about the globes, and it was a way of revealing that those glowing orbs got stuck in my head. He said “Yes, you must blog the globes.” It’s not that I wrote this entry just to fulfill a promise; it’s that the thought of these crazy things won’t leave my mind, and it’s a good thing.
Last week I was locked into a rigid mindset while arguing about something with my spouse. I thought of Ingo’s globes out of the blue, and realized that we each digging in while seeing the situation through only our own reality. I reminded myself of how it might look, if I stopped and looked through the eye’s of “the other”. It was enough to shift how I saw the situation, led my partner to do the same, and as a result it change the outcome.
Maybe that’s what Ingo’s globes are designed to do: Change the way that we “see.” A link to Ingo’s images is here. Take a virtual stroll and see if it helps in your next argument with a spouse, friend, or co-worker.