In episode 117 of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz, let’s talk about another example of uncommon sense: Objectivity doesn’t exist.
Listen to understand why this is, and why, despite often hearing that objectivity is a good thing, true objectivity is impossible.
I also discuss how the alternative helps foster compassion and empathy and paves the path to healthier relationships and an interconnected worldview.
Once you’ve listened, let me know what you think! Be sure to leave a comment!
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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #117
Hello everybody and welcome to The Possibility Podcast. I’m your host, Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and I am the author of the book, The Possibility Principle, the companion to this podcast. I hope to be your thought provocateur and I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking and a new game plan for life.
Hello everyone. I’m going to be providing you with another principle of uncommon sense. Here’s the headline. There is no such thing as objectivity and that’s really a good thing.
We have an unquestioning belief in objectivity. It’s actually fundamental to our sense of reality and how we engage life. It’s a primary pillar of our belief system and it organizes our beliefs and thinking. And boy, it really screws us up.
The premise of objectivity you see is actually fundamentally flawed once we look at it. We’ve all heard the critical comment, you’re not being objective. Well, your best response interestingly might be, well, of course not. That would be impossible.
Let me give you the background. And before I go into the science, I’ll share an anecdote. Some of you may have heard this before, so bear with me. I was a potential juror in an alleged drunk under the influence case. I was sitting on the witness stand being questioned as that potential juror and the prosecutor asked me, can you be objective? I admit, I couldn’t wait to create some chaos and I replied, absolutely not. The judge was curious. He leaned down toward me and asked, well, what do you mean, Mr. Schwartz? I paused for a moment and asked, judge, do you have beliefs? Well, he smiled and said, of course I do. I then levied the boom.
Judge, beliefs are biases, aren’t they? A belief is a subjective way of looking at things. As humans, we all have values and beliefs and biases and they are of course subjective. That’s the essence of being human.
The judge granted me my philosophical point and then asked, what should we ask the potential juror? I thought about it for a moment and I said, I’d ask the juror if they could be in touch with their bias, try to put it to the side and still feel they could make a fair decision.
Now, to strengthen this point around the myth of objectivity, recall the lessons that I have shared in my book, The Possibility Principle and from previous podcasts. What did the new sciences say about inseparability? They tell us that reality is thoroughly inseparable, not simply interconnected, but inseparable. Well, to be objective requires standing apart from what you’re observing, detached. But if there’s inseparability, we don’t stand apart from anything or anyone. We are thinking, feeling human beings. We are thoroughly interconnected. We are in some fundamental way participating with what we’re looking at.
Quantum physics calls this the observer participant problem. More importantly, on a non-scientific basis, this belief in our ability to be objective makes no sense. It would require an amnesia of any personal values and beliefs that make us who we are. I mean, we should all agree that the Holocaust happened and the Twin Towers came down, but human perceptions are subjectively informed. We are humans, not robots and not computers.
So what’s the big deal? You might wonder about this point I’m making. This is not simply a philosophical or scientific point. I’m going to be demonstrating how our belief in this false and unattainable myth of objectivity creates havoc in our relationships with ourselves and others. And objectivity is the heart of communication breakdown because it eviscerates compassion, feeling, and empathy. This illusion of objectivity lies at the heart of our relationship dysfunction and disharmony. And furthermore, the construct of objectivity has its roots in this illusion of separation.
Once again, as I’ve shared before, this comes to us from 17th century Newtonian thinking. That thinking was that reality was a giant machine and all the parts were separate from all the other parts, only connected by causality. And we became the cogs in that machine.
I’d love to show you my appreciation for your subscribing to and rating this podcast by offering you a gift to one of the following. The Power of Mind, a live talk that I gave, or one of my digital eBooks, Creating Authentic Self-Esteem, Overcoming Anxiety, or Raising Resilient Children, and lastly, Cultivating Resilient Relationships. Once you have subscribed, please send an email to mel at melschwartz.com and just let me know which gift you’d prefer. Thanks.
So, I’ll prompt you with a question. Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?
Sometimes I’m working with couples mired in debate and argument, and I myself have gone there and I find myself asking others or myself, would you rather be right or would you rather be happy? When I ask this question of other people, they will give me a well-considered answer, I’d rather be happy. But in a moment or two, they default right back to right versus wrong. This argument is rooted in the objective belief that one is right and one is wrong. Remember that’s either or thinking, we’ve talked about that before, if I’m right, you must be wrong. And it’s so natural for us to mindlessly descend into this debate.
Well, how’s that going to work out? If I need to be right, then you must be wrong. Now that doesn’t sound like a formula for harmony, or good feelings, or relationship health, does it? What causes us to default into this morass? My guess is it has much to do with our belief in objectivity, from which there is a right and a wrong. Now, of course, there are times when those verdicts make sense, but most often we’re communicating about facts rather than perceptions or feelings. We’re arguing about the truth rather than feelings.
Facts belong in the courtroom. Feelings are the basis of relationship. Facts don’t change opinions or move our hearts. Feelings do. Instead of arguing who said what, to whom, and when, what the exact words were, what day that happened, just release the litigation. Share how you feel. Feelings are the heartbeat of a relationship. And what we call facts may inform our feelings, but we need to express the feeling. When you find yourself mired in that mind-numbing back-and-forth argument, let go of the debate. Pause and ask the other person, do you care how I feel? Unless you’re on a debate team or you’re a party in a court proceeding, facts don’t matter, feelings do.
We may say I love you, but what does that really mean? Does it make sense to propose that you love someone and yet disregard their troubled feelings? If you say you love me, you should care how I feel. Let go of the objective argument and the extraneous facts and speak to your feelings. This moves you both to the heart of the matter, pun intended. Feelings aren’t subject to the right or wrong judgment and free us to express our deeper being. So try releasing the debate, the ping pong match that goes nowhere and just ask, do you care how I feel? And if the answer is yes, but bring it back to the feelings, don’t allow yourself to be distracted.
Have you ever been told your feelings aren’t rational? This is a case of leaning in. Once again, don’t defend your territory, lean in. Your response could be, of course my feelings aren’t rational. I didn’t know that feelings should be subjected to logic. You know, you can reflect on your feelings, you can appreciate what provoked them, you can reconsider your feelings, but feelings aren’t right or wrong, they simply surface. When you say I feel this and that, you’re speaking the language of emotions, not the words of objective rational logic.
Many years ago, half a lifetime ago, I find myself in a bedtime disagreement with my former wife. I’d say, it’s hot in here, I’m going to turn down the thermostat. Her response might sound like, no, it’s not hot, it’s cold. Well, I came to appreciate that making objective statements were getting me nowhere. So I learned to say I feel hot. That wasn’t arguable. It might not solve the problem over the thermostat, but at least a senseless argument was avoided. Feelings are usually catalyzed by a thought that precedes the feeling.
So you might ask yourself, what thought are you attached to? What thought surfaced that resulted in the feeling you’re experiencing? Now when you employ this exercise, you’re able to release the feeling if it’s sidetracking you by simply saying to yourself, well, that was just a thought. The takeaway here, objectivity has no real significant place in human relationships or in human communication. It blocks us, it intrudes on our well-being, it gets in the way of our being cared about and caring for others.
It’s so easy to invalidate each other and be unfeeling when we’re arguing about objectivity, which again, doesn’t exist. It’s all a matter of perception. So try to let go of this false mythology about objectivity. It puts us in a straitjacket of logic.
I’ll close with a quote. It’s not exact, it comes from my memory, from Thomas Jefferson. He said, or he wrote, I never heard of a circumstance in which an argument was settled by the addition of more facts. Now ain’t that the truth, unless you’re in the courtroom.
Well, hope this was provocative for you, gave you some new perceptions. I look forward to talking to you again soon, next week in fact. Until then, be well and come into your participatory subjective mindset. Bye for now.
I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Possibility Podcast. I welcome your feedback on this and any episode. Please send me an email at email@example.com or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at melschwartz.com. If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show, and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to the Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks again, and please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life and embrace new possibilities.