Amanda Knox and the Question of Bias

Take a look at the Amanda Knox verdict through a different lens.

ByCOLUMN By Matthew Dowd
February 1, 2014, 10:30 AM

Feb. 1, 2014— -- The recent Amanda Knox verdict and the response by the media and the public is an interesting lens into how many people allow their own biases to get in the way of objectivity.

All of us -- no matter how enlightened, open-minded, or non-judgmental we are -- walk around with many biases or prejudices. We hold innate viewpoints based on many factors: our own race, how or where we were raised, our income levels, our faith, our physical stature, our partisanship or ideology, our sex and so many different attributes that influence our outlook.

On the best day I try to understand and see my own biases clearly, so that I can better weigh my judgments or perspectives and open my mind to diverse opinions. And we are in a culture today that does the exact opposite: We seek out information that confirms our biases as opposed to finding thought that might counter them.

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A practice that I try to do as often as I can when looking at many issues and in my personal life is to close my eyes, and imagine if the positions were reversed or the roles were flip-flopped. How would my views change if I switched the positions of what I am looking at. If they are consistent, then I know I am having judgment that bears with it a high level of integrity.

So let's look at the Amanda Knox situation. What would our decision be if an Italian citizen came to this country, was implicated in a gruesome murder, was convicted by a court, and lost ultimately on appeal, and that Italian citizen was now living back in Italy?

My guess is many would be demanding this Italian be extradited and sent to prison here so justice would be done. Many folks in this country are convicted with much less evidence than Knox was convicted with in Italy. I am not saying that I know whether Knox is guilty, but it is understandable why many Europeans think she should go to prison.

What if Knox, instead of being an attractive young white female, was an older rough looking Latino. Would we still hold the same viewpoint that Italy's judicial system is messed up? People asked many of the same questions in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman tragedy in Florida. If we shut our eyes in that situation and reversed the roles, would we still hold the same viewpoint?

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In politics this often happens because of people's partisanship or ideology.

President Obama or a Democratic does something, and Republicans pounce and Democrats defend. And the reverse happens consistently as well. If former President George W. Bush or a Republican leader is castigated by Democrats, Republicans line up in support.

There seems to be snap judgment based on no information other than someone's partisan jersey. If you aren't on the same team, then you must be wrong.

Every day I have to catch myself from doing the same thing. I might do it in my personal life and in relationships where my own old baggage or biases get in the way of clearly seeing a person right in front of me or accepting them for who they are.

Our old wounds and fears so often keep us from accepting, trusting or seeing the truth of another. And we miss out on something real and good staring right at us because we have a blind spot we were unaware of.

So whether the issue is Amanda Knox, or the president, or the guy down the street, or the person you care about, take a moment close your eyes, breathe through it, and put yourself in a totally different place and look at it from a 180-degree angle. It might show you where a bias might exist within you that you were unaware of, and by doing so it might get you ever closer to that imperfect and elusive truth we all strive to find.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Follow him at @matthewjdowd.

Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.

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