For those of you who have started to believe you've been trapped in an alternative universe since the 2016 Presidential election, where up has become down and down has become up, WAKE UP! In spite of what some elected officials and those who surround them would have you believe, facts do matter! Journalist Dan Rather addressed this issue recently when he wrote, “The reality is we don't live in a post-truth world because if we did, almost every aspect of modern society would cease to exist - immediately. So, the fact that we seem to be heading into that world in politics is not only deeply troubling, it has the potential to upend life as we know it.”
It’s been said that if you repeat a lie enough times, people will start to believe it’s true. With the Internet being flooded with bogus news stories, a recent study found that the top five fake news stories shared on Facebook were seen by more people than the top five factual news stories reported by traditional media. Thousands of people were convinced by a fake news story that a pedophilia ring involving people at the highest levels of the Democratic Party was operating out of a Washington DC pizza restaurant. The story went viral on Twitter - nearly a million messages were sent in November using the term "pizzagate". Then on December 5th, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch traveled 6 hours from his home in North Carolina to DC and walked into the pizza restaurant with a rifle saying he was there to “self-investigate” the alleged sex ring. After pointing the rifle at an employee who escaped, and firing a round into the floor, he was arrested by police. We used to snicker when conspiracy theorists said that the USA moon landing was staged on a sound studio in Los Angeles. They were chalked up to having a screw loose. However, today, millions of people believed, with no evidence, that a presidential candidate was running a porn ring out of a pizza parlor. This isn’t just a difference in political opinion, it’s the suspension of reality in the Twilight Zone. In the spirit of stripping away all political correctness, if you believed or shared this story, you were dangerously irresponsible or have a screw loose. Now, the President of the United States is convientely taking cover behind "Fake News" claims to try and hide true stories that have persipitated bi-party investigations in both the House and Senate and an independent investigation of a special council initiated by the President's own Justice Department.
There are a number of disturbing trends that have contributed to the dangerous path we are speeding down. One is the gullibility of, what otherwise seem to be, rational people when it comes to believing anything that supports their opinion, without an ounce of critical thinking. During a time when information is available at the push of a button, most people are unwilling to fact check the simplest piece of information. This during a time when resources like Google, Snopes, PolitiFact and a number of other Internet resources are available to tell you if the facts of a story are true or not and if the author has a political agenda that would reflect bias. Dan Rather explains, “One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that often when people say facts are facts—they're not really facts….. and the duplicitous media outlets that have echoed the lies without question.” When you can make up stories that support your own agenda and the institutions that are meant to hold you accountable don’t, society engages in a delusion that is extremely dangerous. This is compounded when the media does expose the lie and the liar tries to discredit the media as biased and unfair. The best advice here is the age old adage… “Don’t kill the messenger!” The truth is not arbitrary. It’s not something that can be conveniently adapted to meet your comfort level. A lie is a lie is a lie and the facts are the facts. Of course, we can argue about the application of different facts in relation to each other. However, you can’t lie and then lie about not lying. If the only way you can justify your lies is to become delusional about what you said, we’ve all got a big problem.
John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.” A polite way of saying that many people are intellectually lazy. He also observed, ““Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof.” This is a scary indictment of all of us, if it’s true, that we are so invested in our own opinions that we are unwilling to openly look at the facts and opposing points of view to shape our positions on an issue. As Rather puts it…. “If people want to live in a post-truth world, where "elite" experts are all biased and facts are up for interpretation, I suggest they go all the way.
You can go to a post-truth doctor who could say "Well, the elitist scientific tests say you have strep throat but I say it's cancer so let's give you some chemotherapy…. “The reality is that all of modern society, from the way your cell phone hooks up to your wi-fi, to the way the rain funnels into the storm drain, to the way your freezer keeps your ice cream frozen, is based on facts. It's because smart people, who went to school and learned facts, collaborated to figure things out. And they wrote them down so that other people would know those facts and be able to build on them. That's how science works. That's how technology works. That's how modernity works.” It doesn’t mean that if you don’t have a college education you’re not smart. However, it does mean that if you ignore the facts that competent, smart people agree upon, you are ignorant!
In business, what is the message to people that have to manage the way they communicate research, policies, visions, positions, performance reviews, goals and objectives to other people? It’s quite simple. Facts matter! They will lead you and the people you influence to the truth. It’s one of the first things we learned as children, “Don’t lie!” Remember the stories about George Washington and Honest Abe? While the irony of the factual nature of these stories is not lost on us, neither is the impact of the message that we learned as a child. It confirms what we have learned as a management consultants. While lying may get you a pass by those who already support you, those that are not already sold will be alienated even more by the falsehood you try to pass off as fact. In order to work with, lead or motivate people, you need to build a consensus of support, not just a plurality. One of the most valuable assets a person can possess is integrity. It’s hard to build and easy to lose. Once lost, it’s next to impossible to rebuild. If you want people to listen to you, your words need to be considered credible. “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” – Albert Einstein