Do Not Believe Everything You Are Told
Wisdom, to a large extent, is learning to see the world, not as we think it is, but to see it as it actually behaves. An excerpt from our upcoming book Wisdom in Buddhism
What do you believe when the president of the United States stands before you on national TV, addresses the nation and tells you that global warming and the very idea of climate change is nothing but ‘fake news?’ Do you believe him, because he’s the president and nothing he says or does could be wrong? Do you examine his statements for validity, seek other information resources and draw your own conclusions? Do you look for the latest report from the IPCC or World Bank? Do you recognize your own conformational biases? Maybe you just ignore the whole thing. A psychotherapist friend of mine jokingly suggested that, “These might not be bad times to be delusional.”
Still, when the president of the United States stands up and announces that global warming is ‘fake news,’ you have to ask yourself why he thinks that. You have to go out and look for yourself. Make your own conclusions, open your mind and read the research and take into account your own observations and felt experience.
Maybe you will find that there is, indeed, some global conspiracy to redistribute wealth by creating a ‘fake news’ story about climate change. Maybe you’ll uncover some plot by a foreign nation that is working to undermine the economic might of the US by misleading the world around global warming and it’s causes. Maybe it’s a plot by the Democrats and other lefty groups to return to power. Maybe it’s the sun, after-all. Maybe Obama wasn’t born in America. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll discover that the president of the United States is a scientific genius and is, in fact, the foremost expert on global climate dynamics and knows more about climate than the IPCC, NSF and NOAA combined and that his conclusions are right, when all is said and done.
After you’ve examined all of that and sorted through the likely possibilities and applied your suite of mental faculties; intellect, deep thought, foresight, humility, humour learnedness, historical perspective and humanitarian point of view, you can make a wise choice. Once you’ve examined, identified and set aside your own biases, bigotry, preferences, delusions and pre-conceived notions, you can, at least start, to make a wise choice about whether or not Donald Trump is a scientific genius.
We’ve slagged Donald enough. What this is really about is not blithely believing what we are told about something, even when the president of the United States is telling us. It’s about examining, pondering, extrapolating and making reasonable conclusions, based, not merely on our mental pre-conceptions, but combined with our observations and direct, physical experience. When our conclusions match with our observations of the world, then we are in a good spot to make wise decisions, make wise statements and perform wise acts.
Sussing out Fake News
Look Beyond the Headline
We’ve become terrible consumers of news. We believe almost anything if it’s a headline. Take the time to read the story
Does the story make any sense, given your observations of the world and your direct, personal experience?
Search other news outlets to see if the facts align
When one news outlet puts out a story, it always wise to check into what other outlets are reporting on that same topic. Are the facts largely agreed upon? Are the dates right? Are the people involved the same in both stories, etc.
Question the news source
It’s a rare news outlet that isn’t biased. When CNN reports on something Trump did, it will assuredly provide a Democratic/Liberal viewpoint. The same story from FOX will represent a Republican/Conservative view.
Check the times, dates
Fake news stories are too often poorly researched and documented. They get tripped up with dates and times quite frequently. In short, they are often sloppy.
Look for the author on a search engine to help determine her credibility
You can find out a lot about news writers on the internet. Has this author been a solid reporter, respected and accurate?
Perhaps they’ve been accused of journalistic misconduct by publishing false stories in the past
Maybe they’ve plagiarized the work of others in the past or been accused of playing fast and loose with the facts previously
Has the author written on the topic before?
What is the credibility of the news outlet that published the story?
Can we believe Agent K (MIB) when he ‘checks the hot sheets’ and asserts that “tabloids are the best investigative reporting on the planet?”
Check the links and other sources used in the story
A lot of links in ‘fake news’ stories are either dead or link to conspiracy theory website that support whatever the author is writing about
Does the story contain adequate footnotes to back up or explain assertions?
Question photos and quotes
Just because we see a photo of the Pope lifting weights, doesn’t mean the Pope actually lifts weights. Does the photo make sense? When a quote is linked to a photo, do the dates match up? Would the person in the photo actually be saying what they’re reported to be saying?
Be aware of your own confirmation bias - (see Bias in Decision Making)
When we believe something, we tend to see truth in anything that support that view. To a hammer, all problems can be solved by whacking a nail.
Of course you're not going to do any of that. Like so many people, you're just going to listen to CNN or FOX and let them decide for you what is fake and what is not. As we discussed earlier in this book, we have become lazy thinkers, no longer able to tolerate the opinions or views of other people. We no longer have the cognitive skills to think through difficult problems - or at least we no longer seem able to. That, right there, is one major obstacle to wisdom, unwilling and/or unable to listen to others without flipping out.
See Conversation, Bringing Light in the blog section for more on how we can overcome this obstacle to wisdom.