Figuring Out the Truth - Rules of Thumb to Live By
Mary Ritenour's "Figuring Out the Truth" Ten Rules of Thumb:
- Work to strip out the emotional reactions; try to be as factual and data driven as possible. Go to original sources for data whenever possible.
- Expect complexity. Don’t settle for simplistic solutions or claims. Life and life’s issues are, for the most part, not one-dimensional. That does not mean that you should avoid decisions, but recognize that nearly all of life’s choices come with not insignificant trade-offs.
- Credible experts are the ones that are transparent about their information, acknowledge when their opinions change, willingly share their thinking processes, and invite debate as a way to improve EVERYONE’s understanding of an issue.
- Never let anyone tell you what to think or how to feel about an issue. You have the right to form your own opinion, to do your own fact gathering, consult your own experts (and hold those experts to your "Rules of Thumb" standards!).
- You have the right to change your opinion as you become aware of additional information. Indeed, learning and developing more depth of understanding is part of my definition of maturity.
- The behavior of those advocating a position can tell you something about their own commitment/belief in what they are advocating. Someone who tells me that fast food is toxic, but eats at McDonald’s every day has no credibility with me.
- Be wary of "emergency" or "crisis" claims." The sky is rarely truly falling, and those who insist on immediate action usually want you to act before thinking for a reason. ("Experts" have been predicting awful calamities since the first hominid saw the first meteor – the accuracy rate of these predictions nears zero.) Reserve the right to take your time to think through your options.
- Learn enough about statistics, logic (especially fallacies of reasoning), basic research, and risk analysis to be BS inoculated. This includes learning to ask questions like "How did you arrive at that conclusion?" "Where did you get your data?" "What assumptions did you use in gathering/analyzing that data?" "What is your ultimate objective/goal?" "How do you know that?"
- People act in ways that they perceive are in their best interest. That "best interest" includes being socially acceptable in their circle of friends, feeling as though they are part of some larger good (recycling, etc) or simply the pleasure of "doing good." To more clearly understand someone's choices, you need to understand the options they had to choose from (or that they thought they had to choose from) – the context of their decision is important to understand. Without understanding that context, their decisions may not make any sense to you. Your reaction to them may appear hostile, which just impedes the process toward understanding each other.
- Those who insist you be either "for" or "against" their position are not advocating a position on an issue so much as asserting a dogma. If they don’t have enough respect for you to hear your opinions and questions, or searching for some alternate "none of the above" solution, it speaks poorly of their own reasoning skills and quality of their proposed solutions.