Personal Experiences Are As Valuable As Statistics

By Linda Wang

Humor Editor

It’s common knowledge that one of the best ways to strengthen an argument is with statistics and fact-based knowledge. Indeed, statistics certainly provide an objective piece of evidence that can sway an argument, particularly in the context of a social discussion; however, a person’s personal experiences with aspects of their identity — such as their sexuality, race, physical condition, and disability — can be equally as powerful as a statistic, and should not be dismissed.

Statistics impose an expectation of uniformity upon the population from which they draw, and ignore the nuances of individuals. The nature of statistics is black and white: a data point assumes that a person has or has not experienced xyz, a person does or does not do action xyz, a person is or is not part of an xyz group, etc. because statistics only measure demographics. In addition, methods for obtaining statistics such as polling or observation are nearly impossible to compile without human error or bias. This ensures that almost all of the time, there will be people whose experiences cannot perfectly align with statistics in their demographic. Even just within the United States, there are a myriad of different cultures that have unique standards, habits, and experiences that the use of statistics robs when it supposes conformity.

The use of statistics and dismissal of personal experience in a socio-political context is growing. In particular, the progressive left is prone to using statistics to support their arguments while the conservative right shows doubt regarding them. For example, people on the left tend to dismiss statements such as “I haven’t seen any bad police. What’s so wrong with the police force?” or “I’ve only seen respectful men in my life, and I’m very comfortable walking around late at night.” While these groups have harmed other victims, when we dismiss these positive experiences due to reasons such as a lack of understanding, we are in effect dismissing these people’s “worlds” that have shaped them to have that view. The discussion becomes a hostile environment where people may not feel safe enough or informed enough to contribute, and as a result, fail to provide crucial points of perspective. Instead, thoughtful explanations and analysis of both sides’ socio-political climates is the best way to foster discussion. 

Considering the distribution of the political spectrum on a map, those who are left-aligned cluster in big cities and coastal areas, whereas those who are right-aligned spread out in rural areas towards the middle of the country. It is therefore crucial that we consider the degrees of contrast in the political, economic, and social environments that have led to the experiences, and political view, that people have. Believing in a statistic’s ability to have an end-all say to a discussion goes against the progressive agenda to be liberal and open-minded.

Of course, statistics have their points of merit and are still crucial aspects that aid discussion. While statistics fall short in their ability to see nuance, personal experience falls short precisely because it can be too varied and unique. For example, a rare positive experience regarding an interaction should not annul all negative experiences with the same interaction. Ultimately, it’s crucial to use a holistic approach when taking any information: to consider both feelings and facts allows for one to make an informed opinion. 

(Sources: The Guardian)

Categories: Opinion

Leave a Reply