Truth often alludes us.
I just read an article about a politician who made inaccurate claims on television about another politician. The source of this claim was an unofficial site that had obtained ’pieces of a communication’ which were then taken out of context so as to appear to align with the site author’s (and the politicians) message and beliefs. This unofficial interpretation has already been shared tens of thousands of times and will no doubt multiply.
It wasn’t the truth.
When the politician was interviewed and shared this information in support of his perspective, the TV journalist, rather than tut-tutting, needed to ask a simple question before allowing that information to be presented as truth to millions of viewers.
The question: ‘How do you know that?’
And the questioning should continue until a reliable or original source is identified.
How do you know that?
And how do they know that?
And where did they get that from?
There are, however, a number of human realities working against this.
The first is confirmation bias – our tendency to seek out and assume as truth the information that confirms what we already believe or want to believe. Bias is a cognitive shortcut designed to save precious ‘brain fuel’ but of course isn’t always accurate.
What we do know is that it is very difficult for us to know when we are being biased. Neuroscientists used to think that if we taught people about bias then they would be able to recognise when they were being biased and self-regulate. It turns out that’s not the case. It is only when we engage with an open mind with others that can ask the right questions that we can identify and move past our bias.
The second is our very powerful need to be accepted. In this case, the need for this politician to be accepted by his political party and to find information that aligns to the party line, thereby rendering himself ‘worthy’.
Behaviour that is driven by confirmation bias and the need to be accepted by peers is ‘normal human behaviour’ – it’s just not that useful.
If you want to save time and energy in your personal or professional life, get in the habit of not simply accepting what you hear as the truth until you’ve tested it by asking this simple question:
‘How do you know that?’