The Truth According to Who?

Good morning, and happy Friday! I hope your day is off to a nice start.

I think summer is just about over. It’s a lot cooler here today, by about twenty degrees. You know what that means, right? Global warming is gone!!! We can go back to leaded gas and aerosol sprays, and cows can once again break wind without fear of ending up on somebody’s dinner plate as punishment. Hallelujah!

Okay, I wrote that completely tongue-in-cheek and I still feel even more idiotic than I sound. Of all the things we can do with computers, nobody has ever invented a sarcasm font. Seriously? I guess you’re supposed to just read the words and accept them as truth without applying any thought of your own. Sounds a little dangerous to me.

In a previous life, I was a technical writer. My job was to take technical matter and express it in words the average Joe can understand. And the industry must not know any really smart guys named Joe, because they told us to write everything at a sixth-grade level. Think about that the next time you read a toaster manual.

I wasn’t so smart about all those things that I could just write the manuals. Okay, maybe toasters. But for anything more complex, I had to rely on subject-matter experts – people who knew the topic inside-out and could give me enough information to let me write the book. Which is why most user manuals have big mistakes. You’re getting it second-hand.

Over my desk I had a sign – “Garbage in, gospel out.” It was a not-so-subtle reminder that I would write what I was told to write. I’d ask questions and get clarification on anything that didn’t sound quite right. But in the end, the person giving me the information was the source of truth. If they forgot something important, it didn’t go in the instructions. Kaboom!

Worse yet, most people would follow those instructions blindly because they were under the mistaken impression the book was written by somebody who knew what he was talking about. It’s one thing when you’re talking about burned toast. But if you bypass the wrong sensor and accidentally raise an airplane’s landing gear while it’s on the ground, that’s gonna leave a mark.

Which is why most instruction manuals, especially those that deal with more complex and dangerous procedures, have a disclaimer at the front that says, “If these instructions aren’t clear, get help.” Find somebody who knows a little more about the topic and make sure you’re not about to drop an airplane on somebody’s head.

That said, as a writer, I tend to take things pretty literally. Like those billboards that say, “Illiterate? Call today!” I’ll just leave that one right where it sits. My favorite was one of those seat-back emergency procedure cards on a passenger plane. At the end it said, “If you cannot read these instructions, ask a flight attendant for assistance.” Got it!

In a world of 24-hour news and social media, it’s become far too easy to just read what somebody else thinks and accept it as a source of truth. After all, “they couldn’t write that if it weren’t true!” Well, yes … they can. And believe it or not, they do. Why? Because somebody will take it as gospel and spread it around. Before long, everybody’s talking about it.

Some of this even originates from “news” sites. And we all know, journalists are held to a higher standard of reporting the truth, right? No, they’re not. Besides, a lot of these “news” agencies consist of a couple of trolls sitting in a dark corner of their mother’s basement, making up stories as they go. And if you tried to identify them, your search would likely end up overseas.

Then there are the stories that appear as if they came from a reliable media source. They even have the right logos and background colors. It has to be real! Well, if a hacker from Nigeria can mimic your bank’s website well enough to fool you into sharing personal information, it’s not that difficult to copy an international media webpage.

Sure, we should all pay attention to what’s going on in our world. But consider the source. If it’s so outlandish you can’t believe such a thing could ever happen, trust your instincts. Do a little research. In the same time it takes to spread a story, you can verify its authenticity. And while some pretty outlandish things have been happening, don’t believe everything you read.

It’s hard to know the truth sometimes, especially when we let our own preconceived beliefs influence what we take to heart and what we automatically discard as lies. The truth rarely lies at the ends of that spectrum – it’s usually somewhere in the middle. If you want to be informed, then inform yourself. Don’t ever let somebody else tell you how to think. Least of all, me.

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!

© 2020 Dave Glardon – All rights reserved