Seeing the Facets of Facts Part 1

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Most of the time when we answer a question with a single response, that answer is only part of the picture. We have all seen leaders (who may feel a need to appear decisive) answer quickly without thinking through the implications of their response. When this happens, what they share is oversimplified and “partialized,” not a relevant or responsible interpretation of the complex issues involved.

I have used the facets of a diamond to talk about this in a previous post. We may be describing one particular facet of that diamond, and excluding the others, but that doesn’t mean that the other facets aren’t there. This is why the “truth” can sometimes seem difficult to uncover. It is multidimensional, and this explains why people sometimes talk about truths they see that aren’t shared by others.

The bottom line is that the majority of the time we only have part of the picture. Here are 3 Things to Know About Facts Versus Opinions, to help you identify whether or not something you are hearing is only part of the picture.

3 Things to Know About Facts Versus Opinions

  1. Just because someone we follow or admire says something is true doesn’t make it true. We have many cognitive biases as humans that are hard to overcome that make us think that when a person we admire will only say things that are true. No one is perfect, and not everyone has our best interests at heart. Rarely does anyone have ALL the facts, so blind following is an ethical mistake. We should each bring skepticism and our own research to issues before we make decisions about our opinions on the situation.
  2. There are different levels of truth, and it is our responsibility to reach for a deep level of understanding of issues. Supporting something just because our party, our group, or our family supports it is blind following (see #1 above). At a high level of understanding of issues, we are seeing many of the facets of the issues, not just fixating on one or two facets. We are listening to people we don’t agree with to understand their points.
  3. Other-awareness is required to get to higher levels of truth. It is easy to dismiss important facets of the truth that impact other people but do not impact us. This is the self-serving bias, where we ignore important ways an issue impacts others. it is a thinking flaw and an ethical omission. It is an example of seeing what we want to see rather than seeing the issue as it is with all of its impacts on us and others.

Cut diamonds have many facets, and so do complex issues. There are not “alternate facts” but there are narrow views of an issue that are only pretending to give you the whole picture. These days, most of the choices we face day-to-day in a connected global society are complex. How will you apply these 3 Things to Know to improve the judgments you make about whether or not something is true?

Stay tuned for more on this topic in Seeing the Facets of Facts Part 2 next week.

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