- Education and Science»
How to Tell When a Scary Thought is a Lie
Five Steps to Know When a Statement is True
Most people try to be truthful. But there are a few who deliberately try to scare us into believing something that is not true because of a benefit they get from our believing the lie. A boy at school tells everyone that Wal-Mart is all out of the latest fast selling movie. They believe and don’t even try to get one. He goes to Wal-Mart and buys the last copy.
The best apples are on the other side of a pond. A big girl tells her little sisters there are alligators in the pond so don’t go near. Then she goes after the apples.
Do you wonder how to tell if a scary statement is true? Who can you trust, especially when anyone can say anything on the internet? And TV and newspapers have motives other than truth.
Different people have different styles of trust ranging somewhere between skeptic and gullible.
Do you distrust first, taking a skeptical stance, and extend your trust cautiously. Or do you trust first? Are you willing to believe until you find a problem? There are specific steps in trust from skeptical to belief and from belief to knowledge.
1. Skepticim. The first is a very cautious "put your money on the barrel" method. People once gathered at the general store where goods came in barrels that afterwards served as tables. Someone would wager a dollar or a ten-er that "after all these years old man Carmody sold his prize jalopy."
"Naw, he'd never."
"Wouldn't think so, but he did!"
The one taking up the bet would say, "Put your money on the barrel." After all, a bet was no good if the guy didn't have the money. Each can see immediately whether the other has the money. These two are, however, still unable to observe directly whether Carmody has his jalopy.
2. Source. Removed from direct observation but still within the scope of a skeptic would be asking the source of the information.
"Who told you that?"
"Julie heard it from Carol, who saw Carmody yesterday at the café, on foot."
"Look, I've got a ten-er at stake here. You got to do better than third hand hearsay. Wouldn't be the first time Carol got her facts wrong. Remember that time she spread it around that the Wiley boy'd thrown a rock at Mrs. White's poodle while the kid was in Wisconsin at his grandmother's? Turned out Carol was covering for her own grandson, that mean-spirited Charles." The source is suspect and the bet is not settled.
3. Maybe. Maybe not. And who cares. Of course, if the second man isn't interested in Carmody and his jalopy, he'd ignore the bet. He doesn't care. We could call this position neutral. But if he's undecided and does care, not knowing the facts can worry him. Suppose the second guy also has an old car he prizes and believes "us jalopy owners have to stick together." If the second man goes to sleep without an answer, he may worry that Carmody's wife made him sell the car.
4. Almost persuaded. The second
man, as he thinks about Carmody and his wife, may say-without further
research-that he's not betting. "That old Helen been wearing the pants in
that family ever since she married him." He's somewhat willing to believe Carmody sold his car. He'd consider it more likely than not.
5. Believer. The second man could find the statement that Carmody sold his car so plausible that he simply accepts the statement. "I always knew he couldn't hold out against Helen." He doesn't require proof. He's heard it and he believes it.
Of course, as with most issues, the matter doesn't rest here. Sooner or later these two men will see Carmody, with or without his car. They'll talk to him. That will settle it. Or, rather than wait for Carmody to happen along, they could visit him.
The only truly dangerous position is believing a negative without investigation. Someone says, "Old man Carmody keeps a killer dog! There's graves all over his back yard." There are many equivalents to this in our culture. The tactic is to scare us so thoroughly we accept Carmody as the bad guy and don't ever find out he would never keep a dog that hurt anyone.
There are scary truths. Men are dying in war. It's okay to say so.
But some of what scares us are lies.
When you read or hear something that scares you, find out who said it
and what their motives are. Track it down. Will the real bad guys now stand up? Of course they won't. They'll paint the good guys bad. But you can use these five stages of belief to test the things you hear and read.