Fair Witness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of seeing clearly. Most of us, most of the time, muddle together our observations, beliefs, impressions and assumptions — and call it ‘the truth.’

Robert Heinlein wrote a book called Stranger in a Strange Land. In it, he invents a profession where people are trained to be absolutely impartial in their assessments, and to speak only from their direct experience, without inference or speculation. He calls these people Fair Witnesses. If you point to a distant house and ask one of Heinlein’s Fair Witnesses what color it is, he or she will say, “It appears to be painted white on this side.”

This concept is extremely valuable to me. Whenever I’m in a situation where I really need to have a clear and balanced perspective, especially one where I’m likely to have a strong emotional bias (for instance, where I really want or don’t want something to happen, or where I’m worried or nervous) — I remind myself to be a “fair witness.” I take a mental step back from the situation, and ask myself “Are you stating things as you’d like them to be, or as they really are? Are you neglecting or ignoring facts that aren’t comfortable or convenient? Are you assuming certain things aren’t important simply because you don’t want to have to factor them into your thinking?”

Making the effort to be a fair witness has often kept me from making foolish decisions, acting on limiting assumptions or being misled by fear.

Posted in Thinking

About Erika Andersen

Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

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