There’s an old saying that is critical to an accurate understanding of life: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
It gets variously attributed to Will Rogers and Mark Twain and several others, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the truth in the statement.
Phrased another way, the problem with most of what we know is it was told to us by someone else, and it may or may not be accurate.
This is true for in-person communications, like from your parents or friends. It is true from textbooks, which were written by another human. It is true for television and radio and newspapers and magazines. It is true for doctors, public school teachers, Sunday school teachers and pastors in churches. Human beings introduce error into nearly everything.
When people tell us something, we need to ask where these people got their information. Is it reliable? Was it something they just heard and believed because they trusted the person saying it or writing it?
The entire process of belief-formation relies too much on the judgement and the biases and the honesty of other people.
This is why I have written on more than one occasion that we should “question everything, all the time.”
The truth is we humans still live in a world of oral tradition. Some of it is written down or broadcast electronically, but too much of what we believe is simply the oral traditions handed to us by someone else.
Also, straight-up dishonesty has always been an ugly spoke in this wheel. One of the hardest things I had to learn is that many people will lie to get what they want.
What to do?
So, if you accept what I’m saying as a problematic issue for humanity, the question then becomes how to find the truth. It’s not an easy task. But I’ll share some of the things I use as guidelines.
First, never believe a single source. Give up on the idea you’ll find single truths, single organizations or individual people that hold all truths.
Second, I quit watching corporate television news more than 20 years ago. Eventually I quit essentially all corporate mainstream media. It is too biased, too inaccurate, and in many cases I believe it is heavily propagandized. Instead, I use as many sources of news and information and commentary as possible. There is not room here to fully flesh out this big-media topic, but suffice it to say be wary.
Set aside emotion as much as possible. When you feel passionate about and issue, step back and as yourself why. Once that question is answered, you can proceed with truth-seeking.
Study logic. There are two basic forms: Inductive logic is assuming the whole is true from limited observations. Deductive logic looks at the big picture and then assumes all individual incidents or individuals are the same. Neither is fully true.
Weigh your own traditions and beliefs as a form of inductive logic. You see the world heavily relative to your own experiences. That’s okay, but remember your viewpoint is quite influenced by your pre-existing beliefs, which were largely put in place by the information given you by other people.
Try to see the big picture, even though it’s difficult. Weigh it against everything else and see what matches and what doesn’t.
Ignore negative claims about things being “conspiracy theories” and don’t fear the things that frighten you or seem outlandish. The author of Sherlock Holmes mystery series once had his lead character say, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Because we can never truly examine all possibilities, this statement cannot be fully true, but it has value in our thought processes. It helps a person to accept the possibility of ideas we don’t like.
Try to develop a living, changeable database in your head of what you believe may be truths. As some things form up through observation and study and tradition, you’ll need to accept them as generally true and spend less time questioning them. They will be replaced with other questions and doubts you’ll need to explore. This is the core of becoming a lifelong learner.
Keep notes and bookmark websites and information you deem important to ideas you’re exploring. For example, I have huge amounts of data on grazing management and cattle breeding and on the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to many other topics.
Try not to identify yourself strongly with groups, as this will corrupt your ability to think. Examples would be political parties.
Last, and certainly not least, my beliefs and experience and my observations of others tell me the Christian life and the help of the Holy Spirit is a must for sorting through information. I realize not everyone has this belief system, but I have experienced immeasurable value from it.
These are some of the main thought processes and tools I use. I hope and pray they may be useful to you.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Beef Producer or Farm Progress.