Doing things differently since 1984
I’ve got a confession to make. I want everything to be simple, easy, cut-and-dry. I am a literalist. If I say something, that’s what I mean. If you’re dropping subtle hints, I’ll probably miss it. I like ticking things off my to-do list and never hearing about them again. And I most definitely want my facts to be solid, unchanging facts.
Sadly, although sometimes you get to encounter happy places where things are just as they seem, for the most part the world is a complex, messy, muddled place, where nothing lines up neatly and answers are rarely simple. The problem is, our brains are constantly trying to fit the complexity of life into understandable little boxes. We’re always trying to figure out our world, and when something clicks for us, we call it fact, and broadcast it to everyone in an effort to assist and correct. When someone else comes along and tells us something that directly conflicts with the facts we know to be true, we call them wrong. Have you ever noticed how most people seem to be “wrong”? Even when they’re using “facts” and “logic”? Isn’t that kind of weird?
This might seem painfully obvious to some, but it took me a while to figure out…. Facts are fickle. This is because nearly every fact, in one way or another, is based in this world and its people, all of which are in a constant state of change, and exist in so many layers that no fact can accurately cover them all. Facts are two-dimensional snapshots of a three-dimensional world. Facts tend to be limited and incomplete.
After a period of some confusion, I’ve finally figured out that there are several different kinds of facts – all have value, but they all must be treated differently:
[Disclaimer: Yes, I realize the deep irony in trying to present “facts are fickle” as a fact in and of itself… Take it as an observation; one which I acknowledge has exceptions and is wide open for modification.]
1) The Universal Fact
Universal facts are the ones that will definitely always be true to everyone no matter what, with no exceptions or need for further details. We often go wrong by thinking that there are many of these (especially the ones we share), but there are actually precious few. Here is a short list of Universal Facts:
….and I’m stuck. I’m sure there are more. But I’m also sure that the list is not nearly as long as…
2) The Limited Fact
Limited Facts are subject to change and exception; they are where the world starts getting messy. For example, they may be 100% true for one person or group, but can’t be applied to everyone; or they may be thought to be universal fact until more information is gathered. Generally, facts should be considered Limited until proven otherwise. This does not mean Limited Facts are “wrong”, whether their your facts or someone else’s. This does not mean Anarchy and Relativism should reign supreme. Rather, anything that you consider as a fact – hold it under constant scrutiny. Let others hold it under scrutiny. See how it would fit in to other times and places. If it stands, you will have found a true gem; if it falls, you will have saved yourself embarrassment and deception. Here are some examples of Limited Facts:
This list could go on and on. You would think that this would cover everything, but it is important not to forget…
3) The Belief
Beliefs are perhaps the most important type of fact of them all. They are Limited in that they vary greatly from person to person, but they are Universal in that each person views the entire world through the framework of their Beliefs. In other words, to each individual, Beliefs are Universal Truths. We all have beliefs, and we all need beliefs. We often have facts and experience to back up our Beliefs. Some examples of Beliefs include:
This list could also go on and on. It can be difficult to put your own beliefs up there – after all, our beliefs are universal facts, to us – but it can also be difficult to put others’ beliefs up there, instead of down there in “fiction”.
4) The Opinion
Opinions are like Limited Beliefs. We can often mistake them for Beliefs, or Limited Facts, but generally we can know that these are personal preferences and ideas. They can be innocent, such as our favorite foods and movies; and they can be controversial, such as our viewpoint on current issues. Despite us being able to fairly easily identify what an Opinion is, we still can have difficulty admitting that other opinions are not “wrong”.
It would be a mistake to not mention that some “facts” are just completely made-up garbage, even if one or more people believe them to be true. A small bit of research should reveal Fiction quite readily. We have to be careful though, because we like to put everyone else’s facts, beliefs, and opinions straight to this category.
So, just to make sure we’re clear, this is Fiction:
“Women could never get to executive positions until 60 years ago.”
Whereas this is an Opinion:
“The world is better off with more women in executive positions.”
Probably based on this Belief:
“Society is progressing and getting generally better.”
Which can be backed up with this Limited Fact:
“Women have many more career choices now than they did 100 years ago.”
Again, let me reiterate that I’m not knocking facts. Facts are great. Beliefs are great. Even opinions are great. It’s just important to realize that our facts and beliefs don’t always line up… and really, they won’t, ever. Because that would make the world neat and tidy, instead of a gigantic puzzle that can never be solved by the human mind.