Thursday, March 7, 2013

#66 / Unit Of Analysis

I read an article in a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal that says that smiling is good for your health. That sounds about right to me. If you are interested, by the way, I guess you are supposed to be aiming for a "Duchenne smile" (not to be confused with the "Duquesne Whistle" referenced in a new Bob Dylan song). 

The article on the benefits of smiling assumed that the proper "unit of analysis" was the individual. Not considered very important, apparently, was the effect that smiling might have on the larger society, or on a group.

The picture I have used in this posting is from another article, which I uncovered by typing the phrase "unit of analysis" into my favorite search engine, and scanning the results. The article is titled, "The Afghan Individual as a Unit of Analysis." The complaint made in this article is that there is a "bias towards group analysis," in our efforts to understand Afghanistan, and that proper attention is not being paid to the Afghan individual. 

It would be hard to argue that individuals are not supremely important. They are. Everything that exists in our human world begins in the heart and mind of an individual human being. But we are not only individuals. We are part of the larger society, and a part of various smaller groups. If the "individual" is our only "unit of analysis" we are missing the bigger picture - and shortchanging our understanding of the reality we actually inhabit. 

I can remember the first time I concluded, based on no scientific study, but referencing my own experience, that the fact that I smiled at unknown persons, on the street, changed the reality of my community, and the world. I still believe it. 

And I still believe that "the individual" is not the only unit of analysis for understanding our world. Maybe not even the most important one. 

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