Monday, October 19, 2009

Post No. 138a: Re-Posting of "The Facts Don't Really Matter"

Last week, the world watched as a balloon traveled over Colorado, and as it descended, held it breath to see whether the 6 year old son of Richard and Mayumi Heene was still safely inside. It was later revealed that the kid was never in the balloon, and suspicions were raised about whether the family concocted this story for publicity purposes.

Throughout the blogosphere, and in mainstream media, every Tom, Dick, Harry, and Jane had something to say about this incident, this family, and their motivations, long before the law enforcement agencies completed their investigations. This reminded us of the "rush to judgment" on few facts mentality revealed during the Harvard professor arrest incident. That prompted us to take a break from our examination of the book "New World New Mind," and re-visit our piece written in response to the prior Harvard professor incident entitled, "The Facts Don't Really Matter."

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Being solution-oriented, we’re going to suggest a way to view the public’s response to the arrest of Harvard Professor Gates - without addressing one single fact involved.

That’s because in this day and time, objective facts rarely matter. What people feel and think matter. What really matters is “the facts” as we each see them.

What’s right depends on your view of the world, and how events fit into the world you understand, know, appreciate, or want.

None of us was not present at Gates’ home (and thus have no first hand knowledge). Even though, at least initially, there was no transcript reflecting what was said, or video of the events, many quickly supplied their own assumptions, and formed conclusions about who did what.

Tocqueville, over 150 years ago, warned us this day would come. America must begin to approach our most serious issues innovatively, and stop wishing that they will disappear.

Simply relying on and retrieving our personal worldviews and experiences from our organic hard disks will not serve us well in this far more competitive environment. We’ll get our butts kicked by other nations, particularly totalitarian regimes not playing by our “rules,” if we keep this up, without achieving some resolution.

We read probably over 750 articles and comments on this event. Gates was variously described as arrogant, elitist, bi-polar, degenerate, a fraud, a clown, and proof that affirmative action does not work. Crowley, the arresting officer, did not fare any better. He was described as a thug, Nazi, Neanderthal, racist, and the same list of expletives used to describe Gates. (Maybe some progress was achieved since the expletive spewing crowd used the exact same expletives.)

If we are to gain anything constructive from this “thing,” we should appreciate there are some unresolved issues “in fact” that prompted this reaction.

Everyone’s position is legit.

During our 16 months navigating the blogosphere, there has been no topic about which more people have chosen to express themselves and definitely not this passionately.

Race, class, entitlement, and fairness remain America’s most prominent issues. In a way, this was the “O.J. incident” of our decade, in terms of everyone having an opinion. The economic collapse and the decline of life as we once knew it probably stoked the fire.

It has been suggested that everyone should learn at least one lesson in life from a friend. One of our Fellows speaks of a buddy of over 30 years, from whom he learned two. Once, when he suggested that his buddy did not deserve something, the friend quickly replied, “It’s not about what I deserve; it’s about what I want.”

That friend, a psychiatrist by profession, provided another lesson by relating a pattern observed during marital counseling sessions. The doctor observed how one spouse could bring up factual details of an event 20 or 30 years prior, and then describe, in detail, his or her anger. The other spouse would be shocked, and dispute the factual account. The session would then degenerate into a debate of “the facts,” and who was right or accurate.

He concluded that factual arguments rarely advance resolution objectives.

The Logistician was previously a trial attorney. He once represented employees of a fast food chain who identified an armed robber. The robber forced all but one employee into the freezer. He took the manager into her office, raped her, and then took the money.

One of the employees thought he recognized the robber, and the others bought into it. The accused had a twin brother, and… no more need be said. Charges were dropped, and the accused sued the employees for malicious prosecution.

The jury bought the accused’s argument, and awarded him damages. (Fortunately, the judge set the verdict aside.) The jury felt that the employees made their identification, and choose to pin the crime on just anyone handy.

Solving complex problems going forward (and competing) will require collaboration, appreciation of the views of all citizens, and a search for all facts and contributing factors. All of us have something to say of value, and none of us are just “fringe elements” to be summarily dismissed.

Whether you think someone should be arrested on their property while questioning the motivations of a responding law enforcement officer very much depends on the perspective from which you are watching the play unfold. This seemingly insignificant event is simply symptomatic of some very serious problems festering beneath the surface.

When the 1st O.J. verdict was rendered, the Logistician was in Chicago visiting a corporate client. He later returned to make a presentation before that client, and reps of another company. At the end of the day, a dinner was held. Since it was not a formal dinner, no speaker was scheduled.

However, being a trial attorney and having a personal connection to many of the players involved, he was asked to provide his thoughts as to how people could see “the facts” so differently. That he was even asked speaks volumes about where we are as a nation.

You see, “the facts” don’t really matter. The lens through which you interpret or view them does.

The only way to get beyond that is to borrow the glasses which others wear.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Douglas:

    You frequently speak of biases and how they influence the positions people take. The parallels which we see concern biases, and making judgments about others on limited information.

    As for the fast food restaurant robbery, the basic facts were disclosed. With twins, you get a 50% / 50% chance. The burden of proof in criminal prosecutions is "beyond a reasonable doubt." In the civil world, it is much lower. Just ask O.J.

  3. In the end the facts do matter. It is a pity that people can people can be so easily manipulated but in the end, at least in this society, for the most part truth will out. Without a doubt people are first affected by emotion. The idea of a small child in peril will catch the public's attention and in the case of Amber alerts that attention has been of enormous use. Can be be abused? Obviously. But the worst case scenario for me would be people becoming too suspicious of every report of a missing child. Better the media should enjoy their feeding frenzy than see that happen. It is more than a little sad that with everything going on in the world the media chose to pursue this one incident :( Guess it is a change for them from following the "octomom" and "John and Kate"

    As to Professor Gates, that was more understandable as sadly our country has such a long history of racism and the idea of a Harvard professor being accosted by police as he attempted to enter his home was bound to set off a storm. Should people have waited before forming opinions? I did, but most just imbibed whatever was put out in the various news reports and worse still the commentators who made up their minds before the facts were more or less established. Pity.


"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense Should be a Way of Life"™