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Jest the Facts

Lalala I'm a big fan of systems thinking... and I happen to love the "thinking" part every bit as much as the "systems" part.  There's just something about the exchange and use of facts and information that fascinates me.

I've been distressed by the onslaught of poorly constructed rhetoric coming through the media in the past couple of years in the form of political campaigns.  It appears as though both parties have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction, reality from opinion.  And it doesn't matter which side we're talking about.  Both have become so entrenched that neither will consider a view the doesn't coincide with its own.  For example, here in Iowa, it's a FACT that the courts ruled that banning same sex marriage is unconstitutional.  It is OPINION that this ruling was part of a politically-fueled left-wing conspiracy.  It's a FACT that the democrats at a national level passed a health care bill.  It's OPINION that it will actually help those it is intended to help in the long run.  It is a FACT that some people are in this country without legal documentation; it is OPINION as to whether or not they should be allowed to stay.  (For the record, I could argue pro and con on either side of these arguments, so don't read anything into the above statements that is not intended.)

Facts and opinions are two of the many inputs our brain uses in its own system of making decisions about issues, news, people, and activity.  It also uses beliefs and values, as well as experiences and relationships to form decisions.  This article by Joe Keohane for the Boston Globe points out some fascinating things about us humans.  Facts don't always win.  If one's belief system is so strong, presenting said individual with facts may only backfire:

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters - the people making decisions about how the country runs - aren't blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the mere misinformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

"The general idea is that it's absolutely threatening to admit you're wrong," says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon - known as "backfire" - is a "natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.

I think we've all run into those people who are ALWAYS right... even when they are not.  How do we deal with them?  Well, my preference is to disengage.  If somebody won't operate on logic and integrity, why bother dealing with them?  Whether or not I call them out for their behavior (directly or indirectly) depends on the individual and the culture (environment) in which I'm working.  Your main focus needs to remain on why you wanted to convince them in the first place.  If winning over the other individual is not mission critical to meeting your goals, then quit wasting energy there.  It's as silly as the rhetoric the far left and far right use to convince the other how wrong they are.  However, if you need to win the person over, but their belief systems are too strong to let facts influence them, then find other ways to penetrate through their beliefs. In some cases, you may need to appeal to their belief systems.

The key point is recognizing how the system of influence and exchange works between you and your audience before you engage.  It will save you much headache in the future.


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Claire Celsi

Tim, one of the reasons I enjoy talking with you so much is that you are willing to listen to opposite points of view, and also to remain somewhat neutral. I definitely don't agree with some of your views, but am confident that you have thought through the alternatives. Great post. Thanks, I enjoyed reading it.

Todd Razor

Assumptions are like opinions, everybody has one. And I think we all know, or at least believe, what opinions are like.

Timothy Johnson

@Claire - you were one of the people I thought of as I was writing this post. We differ on more political ideologies than either of us care to admit, but our discussions are always informed and open. I like talking with you better than some people from my own party, just because I know the talk will be rooted in facts and a respect for our difference in beliefs.

@Todd - well put.

Pablo Edwards

It makes sense to me... I'm a system guy as well!

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