When the facts get in the way of our opinions

Dan Gregory

How do we know something is, in fact, a fact, or just an opinion we’ve held so long we’re unprepared to give it up?

Just as importantly, are those we look to engage just as attached to their accumulated “facts”.

One of the most interesting books I’ve read in the past decade, is Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble. Pariser’s assertion is that the internet learns who we are, assesses how our biases and prejudices shape our opinions, and then feeds us further information we’re inclined to agree with.

That’s a painfully brief summation but it’s a good reminder that not only is the information we access online notoriously unreliable, it is also very likely to be framed to entrench already long-held views.

But this phenomenon is not unique to the digital age. In fact, human societies and communities have been reinforcing opinions as facts for millennia.

A lot of this is generated by fear, a powerful emotion that makes those seeking comfort, compliant and easily lead. Control the information, you control the opinions and in doing so, gain control over people.

So why does this matter?

It matters because almost every important issue we face in business, in politics and in life ends up in a binary argument, not based on facts, but drawing on often flawed opinions and hypotheses.

Everything from:

• Gun control or regulation

• Immigration

• Economic Theory (despite the fact that many economists are less reliable than a fun pier fortune teller)

• Freedom, or the lack thereof, of belief (especially if those beliefs don’t reflect the majority view)

• Gender and sexual equality

• Articles of law and civil behavior

• Taxation and government spending

Any of these subjects is likely to lead to heated words and even physical violence at a family BBQ. Hardly surprising given the importance some of these issues hold in our daily life. That’s what makes a capacity to think outside our own personal view points so important. Not just so we can make better decisions, but so that we might also be more influential, more engaging and more trustworthy.

Anaïs Nin is famously quoted as saying, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.”

The truth is, we only ever see the world with as much accuracy, as the number of points of view we have access to, will allow.