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Don’t let facts get in the way

We all learned in school that it’s good to back up your argument with facts. If you don’t justify yourself, then people may not believe what you are saying. Simple enough. But how does that work in today’s warp-speed world with constant actions, reactions and rebuttal to broad spectrum statements voiced by thousands of people? It’s more than difficult.

Take for example, the following scenario. Partisan members of Congress line up on both sides of a judicial nomination. She’s qualified. She’s unqualified. She’s right. She’s left. Who, pray tell, is making such broad-brush claims with few if any facts? Sadly, many people. If we were to do some fact-checking and, God forbid, interviews, we might find some inkling of commonality (truth, trend or fact) among the banter.

However, fact-based or not, we still use our selective retention to hear exactly what we want to hear. That’s where effective listening can come in handy. Sure, we’ve all shut out stuff we didn’t want to hear. That’s human nature. But when we force ourselves into active listening and actually weigh what the person is saying, it might illuminate details and facts we had not thought of or even perceived.

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As with a bag of coins, many sides and faces turn up in an argument. Some people are informed, others are not. Just how do we assess positions or ideas diametrically opposed to our own? Do we place an objective filter over data and arrive at a statistically significant finding? For the most part, absolutely – not.

Some useful phrases come into play here. Data-driven results. Empirical findings. Fact checking. Generally, while developing a good argument, it’s best to hear what the opposition is saying. You know, a good offense is a good defense, etc. But, due to our incredible ability to rationalize, justify and avoid accountability, many people issue wild, unsubstantiated arguments and go on their merry way.

There’s never been a better example than watching coverage of the same event on CNN and Fox News. I wonder many times if their reporters actually attended the same event. Even leaving politics aside, their different takes on climate change research are particularly jarring.

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How could people interpret, then represent, such wildly disparate views of the same event or finding? Selective retention and perception are certainly at work here. We have a tendency to watch the pundits we agree with, correct? Add to that the news-gathering process and the many filters at work from media gatherers, social media gatekeepers and even time constraints. And while journalists are supposed to be neutral and objective filters of information, they are human, and there’s a chance we get some bias with their reporting.

Let’s be frank: Digging out the truth in an unbiased and detailed fashion is hard work. And then, what do we do when we find information counter to our way of thinking? Forget about it? “Interpret” it? Or believe it?

I’m hopeful it is the latter. However, information that conflicts with our beliefs causes dissonance, and we will do all we can to mold it to our worldview. Just look at the past nine months in Washington: Claims and counterclaims are as abundant as stopped vehicles on the Beltway during rush hour. As our heads spin, we often hear only what we want to hear. But surely there’s a way to appreciate the many colors on a palette while acknowledging our favorite color.

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