Perspective

Carol A. Hand

Feeling chilly and achy today

as little viruses have their way

making my body their temporary home

My muse visits easing distress with a silly poem

and with memories of times long ago

about how differing perspectives

profoundly influence what we think we know

***

Perhaps many of you are tired of my stories about teaching research, but increasingly my muse insists I do so anyway. She tells me to write about my own life and experiences, to speak from my own heart regardless of what others find amusing or meaningful.

It often happens that teaching brings new insights that I didn’t really think about before I needed to explain something to students. It happened again during this semester when I was pondering how to explain the importance of perspective. There is a quote that I think about every time I take a photo.

“Doing research is, in many ways, like taking a descriptive and explanatory snapshot of empirical reality. For each particular photograph, the investigator must decide what kind of camera to use, what scene on which to focus, through which filter, and with what intent.” (Crabtree & Miller, 1999, p. 3)

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Looking East from Enger Tower – October 14, 2018

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I remembered a study I did when I was completing my last degree. We had to analyze the effectiveness of a social welfare policy using empirical data. Big words, perhaps, but that’s academia, making obvious and simple concepts somewhat obscure. The meaning of empirical asserts that what we can see and measure with our own eyes is somehow more real than things we imagine or feel.

Empirical means – 1: originating in or based on observation or experience, 2: relying on experience or observation alone often without due regard for system and theory, or 3: capable of being verified (proven accurate) or disproved by observation or experiment. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Take elder abuse. At the time I was enrolled in this class (late 1980s), elder abuse was a topic that was gaining national attention in the United States. States across the nation had enacted reporting laws similar to child abuse reporting laws passed during 1960s. Both statutes required key professionals to report suspicious injuries to state authorities for further investigation. And similar to child abuse, the most commonly substantiated category for elders was “neglect.”

For children, this meant neglectful parents from the perspective of investigators. For elders it meant “self-neglect,” defined as doing things that were considered foolish, unhealthy, or life-threatening.
When the professor asked members in the class to describe their topic, I was told that my topic was foolish.

It’s obvious why elders are abused,” he definitively asserted. “They’re a drain on families and society’s resources.

Research on elders suggests otherwise,” I replied, before listing a number of studies that identified strengths on many levels. As the professor with a national reputation, he was not inclined to yield to a mere student’s views. He proceeded to tell me how stupid I was in front of the class. Several times, I replied calmly with yet more research that supported my perspective. Finally I had to interrupt this repeating cycle by smiling and gently stating, “I think we need to agree to disagree about this topic, Professor.”

In a prior job, I often had to confront ageism among social service practitioners. I remember standing before large audiences of service providers a number of times, asking them to introduce themselves to everyone by name, title, and chronological age, At least one third of each group, primarily middle-aged Euro-American women, refused to state their age in visibly angry ways. It underscored the point I wanted to make about the power of social stereotypes about aging and elders. I wondered if my graying-haired professor held the same fears and denials of aging.

Of course, I couldn’t resist following up the next class by giving him a gift, a little badge with a message printed on it – “Aging, all the best people are doing it!” Needless to say, he wasn’t amused and he did make me work incredibly hard to pass his course.

But the topic wasn’t through teaching me about perspectives. I gained access to the state’s elder abuse reporting system data set through another professor with a national reputation. “I want you to do a simple analysis,” he said, “to show that the system does a good job serving populations of color because they are more likely to be reported.” This time, I took the path of diplomacy and remained silent. I thought about the disproportional representation of people of color in the prison system and knew it was not something I would mindlessly support to please someone in power who probably shouldn’t be publishing research findings.

I met with a former research professor and asked for help to design a different study. Unlike the other professors, he asked me what I wanted to know. “I want to know if the legislation improves the lives of elders,” was my honesty response. “Well, let’s figure out how you can do that with this data set, then,” he replied.

It wasn’t an easy task. The study he helped me design explored how well the elder abuse legislation in a particular State met two competing goals, protecting elders from harm or allowing them to exercise their right to self- determination. The paper that resulted was titled “Elder abuse legislation: Protecting vulnerable citizens at the expense of personal freedom and self respect?

The findings of the study were complex and inconclusive, but ultimately they raised ethical concerns. Statutes that require professionals to report abuse should be accompanied by sufficient funding to support appropriate interventions that help survivors and perpetrators heal and preserve or regain a sense of worth and dignity.

I am grateful for the lessons and memories of years past, and perhaps to the little viruses, too. Sometimes it takes feeling a bit under the weather to force the choice between writing rather than grading papers with a somewhat foggy mind.

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Look west from Enger Tower – October 14, 2018

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Illness certainly gives one a different perspective. Yet the central point remains. Perspective matters. One can use neutral tools like research to perpetuate stereotypes and power-over approaches or as a way to explore more liberatory possibilities. Sadly, it has often been used by those in power to support the legitimacy and supremacy of their particular agendas and lenses.

Source Cited:

Benjamin F. Crabtree and William L Miller, eds., Doing Qualitative Research, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 1999), 3.

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22 thoughts on “Perspective”

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful, lovely comments, Carrie. Honestly, I’m not sure it was courage as much as my natural inclinations to challenge unjust authority. It’s a trait that has caused me a lot of extra work and grief over the years, yet in retrospect, I am grateful that I didn’t choose another response. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  1. So grateful and appreciative of the work you do, Carol, and your sharing
    of your experiences and perspectives with us. An educational platform I recently stumbled upon, openmindplatform.org, seems like it would be something you’d enjoy exploring if you haven’t already. It has been meaningful and helpful to me

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Joan, and for sharing such a valuable resource. After visiting the website, I passed on the link to a colleague to see how we might use it to help students. 🙂

      Like

  2. That he said that in public and with the authority of his position is an abuse on every level, cannot believe he had the gall to do that. Loved your poem, and the quote by Crabtree & Miller is so good. But nothing compares to the way you gently encourage us with your lived wisdom.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You make some valid and important points here, Carol, about perspective and its relationship to bias. So often we “fall for” statistical analyses (because numbers sound unbiased, empirical, and scientific), without considering what bias went into designing the analysis; the same data can often be used to support conflicting points of view…

    And I am humbled once more by your quiet, yet steadfast, courage in the face of hostile and intimidating confrontation. It is not easy to remain calm, to not escalate, in the face of such arrogance and attempts to suppress our points of view…

    Please keep sharing. Your words always uplift me and frequently teach me; I would certainly miss them were your voice suddenly silenced.

    Feel better! I trust your body will win over those virusus in time. :D. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing important insights about quantitative studies, Lisa, and for your kind words. ❤

      We have been well-programmed to believe numbers are more trustworthy than peoples' accounts of what they see, feel, and believe. Yet every study reflects the lenses of its creators. From my perspective, it's unwise to assume that any study is trustworthy unless we have evidence that those lenses are as bias-free as possible and well-intentioned. I have witnessed too many studies that were otherwise.

      Thank you for your well-wishes. I am feeling better today. Sending my best wishes to you. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Carol, you are a part of the conscience that still exists in this self-absorbed, cruel world.

    It’s good to know that there are people, like you, still speaking for those of us who have no voice, who have no power, and that you are passing your conscience, your concern, caring and wisdom, on to the next generations.

    I am glad you shared this with us.

    Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A very interesting post. You are correct, we each come at a subject from a different perspective that doesn’t always show the entire truth. Your example of taking a photo is a good one. The photographer is deciding what is shown and what is left out. Studies, even ones professing to be scientific, don’t always show the entire truth. In the wrong hands they are used to move the masses. Hearing about your old professor, I sometimes wonder, if academia is more about getting people in line than higher education. I always enjoy your posts and come away with something to think about. Thanks and take care.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing such astute observations about the links between photography and research, Bob. We do choose which scenes to photograph or study, and whether the focus we use is near or distant. Of course, the equipment we have and our skills also determine how well our snapshots or studies turn out. 🙂

      Your thoughts about the role of universities in terms of enforcing conformity in thinking certainly fit with what I experienced during my ten years teaching in universities (and the many years I spent there as a student). Fortunately, I also encountered professors and colleagues who opened up new worlds and encouraged creativity. My (Chickasaw) graduate adviser was one of them and I will always be grateful for his support. He’s one of the primary reasons I was able to finish my final degree and the reason I attended the graduation ceremony for that degree. So few of his Native American students made it through the ordeal.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed this post (actually, I enjoy everything you write 😀). The combination of your courage, beautiful compassion and penetrating intellect is inspiring.

    I find your research subject fascinating and important.

    I’ve noticed over the years that I’ve slowly lost respect for people simply because of having an impressive (expensive) education. Specifically since realizing that so many of them often use it to bludgeon people over the brain with. For those people it is a tool of intimidation that makes them feel better about themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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