Fact-checking is hard work. It’s a lot easier to pass along that email about the Australian PM threatening Muslims to integrate or get out of the country, or about an aircraft carrier attempting to bully a lighthouse into changing course, than to check if it’s true.
People often pass along stories that reinforce their worst fears and beliefs, and we reflexively accept them as true simply because of who passed them along or how it’s presented. And many of these stories are not as easily falsifiable as the ones the current U.S. President tells. So what should an optimist do?
To share or not to share: an easy test
Here’s an easy test—maybe not for truth—but for what to spread. Ask yourself the following questions:
Does this interpretation, fact or narrative promote
Yes? Then disregard it. Don’t like it, comment and definitely don’t share it. Even if it’s true, anything that causes fearful and hateful reactions will divide us into opposing groups.
Focus on what builds and unites
It’s easier to kick a sandcastle them to build one, and this is a great metaphor for life. It’s easy to destroy a city, business, relationship or life than to build one, and surprise surprise, sometimes the truth can be as destructive as a lie, which is why when it comes to deciding what to focus on, or pass around, I think a better criteria than truth are kindness, helpfulness and compassion.
How to tell
If you’re wondering how to tell if a narrative, belief, fact, or opinion is not helpful here are some follow-up questions you can use to assess whether it makes sense to not comment or hit the share button. Does the story, belief, fact or opinion
- paint an entire nation, gender, ethnic or religious group in one stereotype?
- give one explanation as THE reason for the behaviour of a person, group or country?
- make you or the group you belong to feel stronger, better, morally superior to another?
Look to the agenda of the person telling the story.
Is the person pushing this position guilty of a double standard e.g. being for it now that his party is in power, but against it when an opposing party is. Shows like The Daily show, A Closer look and Last week are valuable because they expose this hypocrisy.
Share what is helpful rather than truthful
Mandela was great because he focussed on what was more important for his country than his being right about apartheid’s evil. He could have focussed on the truth about apartheid and the rightness about punishing its perps, but instead he chose to focus on what was more important: a future S.Africa that worked for all races.
This meant letting go of the hurt, anger and injustice of what was done to him and his people. Focusing on the truth about what happened would have led to thoughts and acts of vengeance, but then what?
He didn’t want to switch places with the Afrikaners, he wanted to include them in a new S. Africa that worked for everyone. This didn’t mean denying or ignoring the truth but simply placing attention on the stories of a new bright future.
I think a bright future for mankind depends on more and more of us making a similar choice…every single day.