The Dec. 24 edition of Time magazine did a good job of presenting some relevant opinions and facts. The cover article by Karl Vick points out that the hyper-connectivity we now “enjoy” means we can be targeted by misinformation from anywhere. He cites a 2018 Gallup and Knight Foundation survey that found Americans regard 65 percent of the information on social media to be misinformation. I’m among the people who have spread a lie.
Last year when the media criticized President Trump for not attending an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, I saw a post on my social media page showing President Obama visiting Arlington National Cemetery and implying the Obama shot was taken on Veterans Day 2018. I passed on that picture. According to the fact-checking site, Snopes, the picture was from 2009. One major factor that makes the passing on of misinformation like this more likely is that social media sites like Facebook are filtered and you can’t search to confirm the authenticity of posts.
It’s much easier than ever for me to spend all my time (online and real world) with only people who share the same views and perspectives I do. Isn’t that a perfect way to get entrenched in my beliefs and to lose an open mind and tolerance for differing opinions and perspectives.
So, one way to work toward truth is to find someone who we disagree with on an issue and buy them lunch. Tell them your purpose is only to listen and ask questions so they can fully explain their viewpoint. And do just that. It’s tough to resist the temptation to argue, voice a different opinion, or try to change the person’s position. Do resist.
A second truth-seeking strategy comes from Stephen R. Covey and his book, The 3rd Alternative . In a nutshell, Covey’s book spells out (including real world success stories) how we can solve our most difficult problems by not moving toward my solution or your solution or a compromise, but by coming up with a third alternative we never would have discovered if we hadn’t combined forces.
My favorite third alternative example from Covey is how Ward Clapham of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police instituted a program where the police started trying to catch kids doing something right and reward them with positive tickets they could use to get pizza, music players, and other gifts. The program helped reduce the juvenile crime rate 41 percent and the cost of processing a youth offender by nearly 90 percent.
Third, we can take ownership of spreading truth. One of my many fears is that we push the blame for the lack of connection, the lack of trust across people of different perspectives onto the media or politicians. We live in a democracy. Ultimately, we the people are responsible for building trust, spreading truth, and living up to American values like freedom and the balance of power and the rule of law.
A fourth truth-seeking tool is to avoid assumptions. About 18 years ago, I tried for weeks to get in touch with a prospective client. I sent emails. When that didn’t work I left phone messages. It was frustrating to try six times over four weeks to reach someone and not get any acknowledgement. Then my phone rang. It was this prospect. Immediately anger rose in me. I wanted to confront his lack of response. Fortunately, I let him speak first. “Chris, I’m sorry. You don’t know this, but my company had an office in one of the World Trade Center towers. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to locate all our employees and just yesterday I finally got in touch with the last one. Now, what did you want to talk about?” That day that man taught me the danger of assumptions.
Listen to people who hold opinions widely different from yours. Work with others to create solutions that evolve from a blending of thinking, a new perspective on the problem that neither one of you could have reached without the other. Accept responsibility for telling only and only passing on the truth. And handle assumptions as if they are nuclear waste.
Chris John Amorosino is a writer living in Farmington.
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