There is a lot of wiggle room between fact and non-fact.
I had a discussion with some friends recently, where I expressed my frustration at what I call “Inside Track Syndrome”. This is the feeling that folks seem to tend to have, where they seem to tend to want others to think they know something helpful, exclusive, unusual, or titillating. Like they have the “Inside Track” on something.
For example, I might ask, when sitting down at a restaurant with my friend (who has been there before) whether (s)he knows if the restaurant serves a chopped salad, before we actually get to see the menu. The friend might, for example, neglect the fact that (s)he does not know the answer, and instead go on a speculative ramble in which (s)he says things like:
Probably, because they serve a lot of salads here.
Or.. even more unhelpfully:
I think they do.
Finally, they might decide it would be helpful to tell me how I might delegate the task of “figuring out” what is on the menu by saying:
You could ask the waitress when she comes.
Nice. As if I did not know that the waitress might know the answer. Well, at least nobody suggested that I could “Google it”. 🙂
So this is an example of a case where the facts are not known, but instead opinions are presented, often based on new “facts” which are added without any basis, and an attempt is made to compute the answer to a simple and specific question, based on less information than is needed to do so.
It happens a lot, as you will notice once you start looking out for it. I find it.. irksome. (And I do it myself, all the time.) My wife refers to it as “talking out of your arse”.
Anyone have ideas why it happens? I have a few, which I can speculate about in a future post.
Arguments and Decision-Making
So I believe, based on my extrapolation from a few personal experiences to a more general theory, that people, at least the sorts of people I meet and speak with every day, are often comfortable crossing the line between fact/opinion, known/guessed, and authoritative/emotional, in ways that seem convenient. And while it is true that scientists walk this line all the time (i.e., it really is just a “theory” of Evolution, even if there is overwhelming evidence to indicate the theory reliably predicts future observations) – scientists are at least expected to continually search for paths to higher levels of authority and theories which more accurately predict observations.
Ordinary citizens, however, in my view, tend instead to do things like.. make compelling arguments based simply on what they believe. I do it myself as well, nearly every day, I’d guess.
In the course of an argument (I don’t mean the “nasty” kind) or decision-making process, I commonly see some of the following gradations of truth and fact: lies, excuses, reasons.
I cannot come to your party because my brother is getting married that night.
So, you tell a lie in order to make impossible the choice of going to the party.
Instead of saying something which is not true, a person might give what they consider to be a “reason”, but which is really just an “excuse”. For example:
I am so sorry. I cannot come to your party because my brother is getting married that weekend, and I’m going to be tied up.
In this case, the option of going to the party is not strictly impossible due to the wedding (which in this case may be a real wedding, not a lie). But you’ve made the wedding into an excuse, claiming that it prohibits you from going to the party, even though the two may not happen at the same time during the weekend.
Reasons are true facts, which also happen to be true. They are pretty groovy, because they get you someplace.
I gotta tell you – I’ve been really over-committed lately. I would love to come to your party, but my brother’s wedding is the same weekend and I just think it’s going to be too much.
This is the most truthful reason/excuse for skipping the party, but it is also the hardest one to tell a friend. It makes it sound like you’ve put the friend second, behind your own sanity and stress level. Like your own happiness is more important than your friend’s happiness.
Well, any way it turns out, what you do is your choice.
I tend to favor giving honest reasons over spewing excuses or lies. But it is often more complicated than that. And, it’s also a lot more complicated than you’d think, to give an honest reason. For example, in the example above, where I poured my heart out about how I felt over-committed, I also did it in an apologetic, guilty sort of way.
Why the guilt? I’m not sure. It’s a little upsetting to see how much guilt (which sometimes masquerades as “politeness”) makes its way into our day, each day.
Do you act on guilt? If you do, do you often notice when it happens?