I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Telling the truth

Lake Padden

I spent a bit of time looking for a picture to put on this post, since I had already decided I wanted to write about truth in the world we live in today, and nothing quite fit. This picture, taken during one of my countless trips around Lake Padden was as good as anything else. Why write about truth? Isn't it something we all know?

Apparently not. I have been pondering about whether we are living in a "post-truth" world, and last night I watched The Divided States of America on CNN, which only made me wonder even more what is happening in the world around me. The special program about what is pulling us apart, and more than anything, it seems to be that we are having a harder and harder time figuring out what is true and what is false. Is this partly because of the incredible number of sources we now have available to us to learn about the news of the day?

When I was young, we only had the three networks to choose from (ABC, CBS, and NBC) on TV, and I was not allowed to change the channel from Walter Cronkite when it was time for the news. As an adult, I remember watching him when Kennedy was assassinated, and he was like a trusted member of the family: no one would ever have doubted that he told us anything but the truth. 

As I pondered what angle to write about truth and lies, I did a little research. These days I have the incredible power of the internet, Wikipedia (which is now huge and 80 times larger than the Encyclopedia Britannica), and many fact-checking websites. I found an interesting article on Skeptic.com about why we are NOT living in a post-truth world. Here's a small excerpt from the article:

So we must safeguard the truth and rationality-promoting mission of universities precisely because we are not living in a post-truth era. Humans indeed are often irrational, but not always and everywhere. The rational angels of our nature can and must be encouraged by truth-promoting norms and institutions. Many are succeeding, despite what seems like a growth in reason inequality. 

 The CNN program showed the awful storming of our Capitol on January 6th and made me feel scared about the direction of the country. But during the final segment, Fareed Zakaria, the host, laid out a few possible ways to fix things, and I was pleased to hear his sense of optimism about the future. When he pointed out that as we grow more divided in our beliefs, we need to spend a little time standing in the shoes of those on the other side of the divide, and try to understand why someone would feel the way they do. He suggested a national call to service, much like the Peace Corps, but one that functions inside the country, rather than outside of it. People who live in San Francisco could volunteer to help in a rural farming community and see what life is like in another part of the country. That was one solution that appeals to me, although now that I am too old to even consider such service, I certainly hope that others will.

During my research, I also learned that one of the reasons we humans underestimated the pandemic so much is that we have difficulty understanding exponential growth. We think in very linear ways, rather than realizing how much things can change in the blink of an eye when change comes exponentially. One way to think about it is to envision a piece of paper that could be folded in half infinitely. How many times would you have to fold an 8x10 piece of paper in half to reach the moon? Well, I was more than a little surprised to learn that the number is: 45. What!? That is why we lost control of the pandemic's impact on our world: its exponential growth and our inability to realize its power.

Ah, yes: the pandemic. It has changed our world in so many ways, and I wonder whether we will ever return to a sense of normality. Of course, it's only been a year since we tried to quell the virus by shutting everything down. It's been almost a year since I was last able to attend classes at the Y, a year since our restaurants and coffee shops closed to everything except purchasing our items and leaving. No more hanging out, other than when the weather was nice and we could sit outside, socially distanced.

I have adapted to the new normal, but I really miss the social connections that have fallen away. I can no longer visit friends casually, and the last time I spent any quality time with my dear friends Lily and Hedi was in the summer when we could sit outside. Now it's February. My world is so much smaller, but I do make an effort to stay connected through texts and the occasional phone call. And of course I have a few friends whom I see every day, or almost every day. It makes me feel less isolated, and I do make a real effort to get my outdoor exercise daily.

Returning to the idea of telling the truth, I realize that I was taught that lies are easily identified, but that's simply not true. One of the problems I have these days is trying to figure out what the facts actually are. I am indebted to several websites that help me figure out that dilemma. Some that I use regularly are snopes.com and fivethirtyeight.com. Do you have others that help you figure out our social situation better? I hope you will share them.

It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'try to be a little kinder.' —Aldous Huxley

 My ability to write by the seat of my pants (figuratively) on my blog has also become a lifeline through the virtual community that has been created here. I look forward to hearing from my commenters, who actually feel as much like family as, well, family does. My dear partner still sleeps while I write here, and I am trying to find a way to extricate myself from what has turned out to be a bit of a slog. I keep trying to find different ways to express myself, and sometimes it works better than others. I might have to return to this subject later on.

Until then, and until we meet again, I do hope you will have a wonderful and meaningful time in your life. Life is so unpredictable, but one thing that seems to have become an immovable object is sitting down on a Sunday morning and pressing these keys until it's time to stop. That would be about now, dear friends. Don't forget to count your blessings and give yourself a pat on the back for being a truth teller.

P.S. I just read today's cartoons, and this one is perfect for today's post (click to enlarge):


Linda Reeder said...

Well, that cartoon certainly is perfect!
TRUTH is one of my passions. I am old enough and stubborn enough to believe that there are some things that are true and some things that are not, and that truth is based on fact. Did someone say this or not, do this of not, see this or not. I believe that real journalists report fact based truth and supply evidence. I am fairly certain that I can find fact based truth on that much maligned "main stream media": ABC, NBC,, CBS, and PBS broadcast news, and The New York Times and the Washington Post in print media. They are maligned because they do tell the truth, and truth can bite.
I do use fact checkers, usually just by Googling "fact check" and my topic to see that comes up. besides those you mentioned, Politifact is a good one.
Then there are opinions. Opinions are fine as long as they are based on fact. I do read quite a few opinion pieces, and I analyze them to see if they are based on fact. Far too often opinions that I see on the Internet are based on perverted or contorted "information". My sister frequently posts such things. I have given up showing her that things she posts aren't true. She rejects fact checkers. She is representative of many folks who chose to believe "alternative facts". It drives me crazy, but I can only continue to carefully monitor myself as to the truthfulness of what I believe and express.

ApacheDug said...

I agree with Linda; that cartoon WAS perfect. Y’know DJan, for our difference in age (I’m guessing around 15 years) I find the similarities in our growing up to be very similar. I too grew up with 3 channels (and PBS), I too knew to keep quiet when Cronkite was on. I was alive when President Kennedy was assassinated, but too young to remember it. But I DO remember when Robert Kennedy was killed, my mom crying and Dad’s silence. And I know Americans from “both sides” gathered to mourn him and pay their respects... it’s unfortunate we don’t have a Cronkite or Kennedy today.

I like the idea of a mandatory service in this country to stand in another’s shoes for a time. I also like Snopes.com very much, but when I was on Facebook and someone would post something so utterly outrageous and get 500 likes, I’d post a link to the Snope article dispelling that false story—and get silence or anger in return. I think there’s a scary number of people out there that just don’t want the truth. And the older I get... HG Wells “The Time Machine”, with the 2 races of people in the future? The Eloi & the Morlocks? I wonder if that’s our destiny after all.

ApacheDug said...

PS. I know I talk too much, just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this week's photo and that I'm very glad I know you DJan, I mean it. I hope you have a wonderful week ahead.

Rian said...

Great cartoon, DJan. And thanks for the fact check recommendations! I'm one who doesn't believe in black and white... most things for me are grey. I know facts can be twisted, words taken out of context, and circumstances/intention can change how something is perceived. It's a complicated issue. Some say the truth is always the truth... and maybe in some cases it is, but I've learned that my truth may not be yours (not yours particularly, DJan as I think we think a lot alike). But to me this is the difficult part. If we actually see things/perceive things differently, how do we get around that? Compromise? I can't stand this division!

Elephant's Child said...

Echoing everyone else. That cartoon is certainly true - and not funny.
Truth is hugely important to me. Family upbringing I suppose. My father obscured it by simply not talking about things he found difficult and my mother was often a stranger to it.
I love the idea of walking a mile (or two) in other people's shoes as a way of bringing us together.
And hope that your week (and all the ones to come) is full of beauty and friends.

Friko said...

Oh dear, having just lived through an era of ‘alternative facts’ in the US it’s no wonder so many are confused. To us over here it seems that lies are almost welcomed and there may yet be more of them, all to muddy the waters of politics, commerce, communal

I tell few lies, certainly never to myself, although the odd little white lie in order to spare someone’s feelings has escaped me. But big lies to the detriment of humanity on the whole must not be allowed to spread. I hope that’s what’s going to happen. I am not altogether certain that it will.

gigi-hawaii said...

There is the Peace Corps, yes, but there also is VISTA CORPS founded in 1965. President Kennedy originated the idea of Americans serving America as volunteers. For example, teaching kids in impoverished areas of the USA, helping with irrigating the fields, that sort of thing.

Arkansas Patti said...

The cartoon said it well if sadly.
I too miss the companionships we use to have pre-Covid. A friend and I were lamenting the other day how much we missed the group luncheons with good food and lots of laughter.
Love the idea of living in another's shoes. We are all pretty quick to judge another by our own standards before thinking of where they are coming from and what they have had to bear.

Gigi said...

I saw that cartoon in the paper today and it speaks the truth.

I think people want to believe their narratives - even if they aren't based in truth or reality; hence the rash of mis-information that is spread through the internet. For the most part, if I something that sounds iffy, I don't even bother to read it or verify it. But, I will fact check most of the articles I do read so I know that I'm not spreading "false news" if I deem it worthy enough to share.

I recently read What Unites Us by Dan Rather (my generation's Walter Cronkite, I think). I think you would really appreciate what he has to say. Personally, I think this book should be required reading for everyone.

Have a beautiful week, DJan! As always, your Sunday posts are a highlight of my day.

William Kendall said...

Very well said.

For some years now I've made a point of getting my news through the newspapers. It affords a certain amount of distance from the subject that 24 hour news channels and multiple a day local newscasts do not. To me the latter can have the effect of amplifying and magnifying an issue without giving it context.

Marie Smith said...

As a retired teacher, I do not envy the job of our teachers today. It is hard enough to teach the academics, but how does one counteract the lies spread by social media when a child’s parents believe them. One can teach critical thinking but parents need those skills as well. Children in some areas have been out of school for a long time too. That will make it incredibly difficult when school is back in session. The pandemic hasn’t helped in that people confined to their homes can be sucked in by these lies, though they are bizarre.

I like the message from the new president about telling people the truth. Also the lawsuits against some media people and company will hit them where it hurts. Maybe they will tell the truth after all. These are a good beginning.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, “Telling the truth” is a great post. You have a wonderful ability to write, in a most interesting way, about things that matter. Truth has been at the heart of why I would say the last four years were the most unsettling as an American citizen in all of my seven decades. At times I felt like all the lies coming from the top of our government were going to result in a country I no longer wanted to live in for the few years I’ve got left. I am so hopeful that we, the vast majority of Americans, have just avoided going off the cliff. We, 81+ million of us, did that by banding together and sending the conman off to Florida. Of course it is still concerning that some 74+ million Americans voted for the conman, apparently because they believed his lies. During the last four years millions of Americans chose media, Fox, Newsmax, etc., that actually promoted the lies the conman and his buddies were telling. You are right on with how we consume news and comparing to the days when Cronkite was the voice of truth. Now, you mentioned, “One of the problems I have these days is trying to figure out what the facts actually are.” I agree completely. Those websites you mentioned are very good. One more I might mention is FactCheck.org. Thank you for sharing Eye on the Edge. Wishing you and SG a fine week ahead! John

Far Side of Fifty said...

I won't say what some people call CNN anymore. Needless to say I have not watched anything on CNN in the past four years. I think all the news stations are concerned with are ratings. Have you ever noticed how some say Donald Trump as if it is a dirty word? They didn't even bother to call him President Trump...I think NBC is the worst of the bunch...I like Hoda but SG is just a horrid woman. Most times I just turn them off or tune in for the weather...who can lie about the weather? I am loving the Discovery + package where there is no news and no ads:)

Red said...

Great topic and post . It makes you think. I always thought I knew what was true but after this I start to wonder if what's going through my head is the truth. You're right that at one time we had few sources of information and they were trusted sources. Now , not so much. Then I thought well what is DJan? Is DJan real? Is what I'm getting really DJan? How would I know what is the real DJan? So doubt is sown in the minds and the minds don't know what they think and then are vulnerable to all kinds of fiction. See, I told ya, ya had a good topic.

Red said...

Great topic and post . It makes you think. I always thought I knew what was true but after this I start to wonder if what's going through my head is the truth. You're right that at one time we had few sources of information and they were trusted sources. Now , not so much. Then I thought well what is DJan? Is DJan real? Is what I'm getting really DJan? How would I know what is the real DJan? So doubt is sown in the minds and the minds don't know what they think and then are vulnerable to all kinds of fiction. See, I told ya, ya had a good topic.

Rita said...

The creepiest part to me is that people can believe what they want to believe when you can find alternative facts everywhere...and there are people who actually want to believe other people eat babies.

Galen Pearl said...

Pete Buttigieg has also advocated for a national service obligation, something I've supported for years. That special you watched sounds very good. I'm going to take a look at it.

Yeah, truth. What a seemingly obvious concept and yet such an elusive one. So much of what we call truth is really more properly labeled belief. And as we know, beliefs about what is true can conflict, especially once we add layers of judgment and interpretation. We need look no further than religion, where "truth wars" have been fought for millennia. Perhaps if we looked more to relationship than belief, we might find our way across the divide.

A thought provoking post -- thanks.

Margaret said...

I use several fact check sites, mainly for the political claims. Snopes is good, but right wingers don't trust it. In fact, they have been brainwashed not to believe any fact check sites. They consider them liberal and not to be trusted. There are certainly times I feel hopeless. We've done a pretty good job here in WA, but like you I miss my social life and personal/close interactions. I was a cautious and shy child who was often fearful; I grew into a more free-wheeling and adventurous adult. So, I feel like I've gone backwards and don't know how or when I'll be able to recapture myself.

Tabor said...

Truth itself is hard to define. Like love, we all see it a bit differently. Yes, we need to understand why the disenfranchised are suspicious and angry and not spend time laughing at them or hating them. I have lived and traveled around the globe and I think I see things exponentially. I knew where this virus was going and I feared the lack of leadership would help it along.

Glenda Beall said...

Wonderful post! I have been very upset about the lies spewed on Social Media and the divide those lies have caused in our country. I grew up in a family that taught honesty and truth were of major importance. My oldest brother was a person who sealed a business contract with a handshake and everyone knew that was as good as a signature on a paper. In today's world, we have so many dishonest people I have come to distrust more than trust. Your posts are
extremely thoughtful and interesting. Thanks.