The Earth is Flat

“What’s an alternative fact?”

This question, posed by Thing #1, was not something I had ever envisioned having to handle. My immediate thought was that there is no such thing. Something is either true, or it’s not.

I have long been hard-wired to see things in black or white. I likely missed my calling as a criminal prosecutor as, in my head, the suspect either did the crime, or he did not. Mitigating, schmitigating…

The past couple of years spent in pura vida have, I believe, changed me a bit. When someone here tries to sell me their car with the accolade that it is, “Perhaps the best car in all of Costa Rica,” we all know that the truth has left the building. As I’ve said in other spots the best summary of this cultural attribute came from a Tico who told me (paraphrasing), “We are a wonderful, honest people except when it comes to our cars. When it comes to cars we lie like the devil.”

The social contract here regarding a car purchase is, therefore, not to believe a word the person selling the car has to say. Hyperbole is expected, and descriptors like “best” are mild in comparison to some of the lies being told. I therefore now know, and accept, that statements regarding Tico cars are almost categorically false. I have also had to recalibrate my thinking such that I do not consider the sellers of the cars to be bad people, even though chronic lying is typically something that would steer me to that descriptor.

As a child my father and I shot rubber darts at the visage of Richard Nixon whenever he appeared on the television screen. I didn’t really understand the deep level of contempt being expressed for our president. I just enjoyed the opportunity—the encouragement—to shoot darts that stuck to the screen of the TV. NOTE: my nominal interest in politics (via the rubber darts) ended for eternity in 1974 when Mr. Nixon resigned and the dart guns were stowed).

I believe it was these experiences, where I was told that Mr. Nixon was a liar, led me to firmly connect lying to the “bad” tag. Further, bad people do not do good things. Good people, who purportedly do not lie (much), do good things. This aversion to lying (about things of consequence) is likely another reason I have never been enamored with politicians.

Where this crashes into reality is the fact that no one is completely good, and whether I like to admit it or not, even people who I might label “bad” likely have moments where they do good things (even Mr. Nixon).

Any person, myself included, has a range of opinions about them in their community. For most this is akin to a bell curve. The bulk of the responses/opinions in the fat part of the curve find that the community has no truly strong opinion either way, but there are people at either end of the curve that either love, or despise you.

How much love or hate you compel, and the corresponding shape of your bell curve, is no doubt impacted by your interactions with members of the community. If you in your day-to-day life treat people badly that is going to impact how you, and anything you might say, are viewed. Even people who constantly strive to do the right thing and always act for good have people out there who don’t like them. That dislike may come from the prejudices of others, who may not like your color, religion, gender, politics or the look on your face.

A snapshot of how a person—or a fact espoused by that person—is viewed is therefore largely impacted by the particular point of view of the person doing the evaluation. This has always been the case, and it has long been a source of conflict.

Where I struggle with Thing #1’s question is that a point of view is not, to me, the same thing as a fact. I admit that there can be much more to a story than initially meets the eye, but however nuanced I might now be in my thought process I still deep-down hold to the notion that ultimately something is, or is not, true.

This is expressed by Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s quote, “Everyone is entitled to his opinion, but no one is entitled to his own facts.” It is frustrating and maybe even a bit funny that the actual source of this quote is in an of itself something that can be debated. To further that point, I chose Wiki as the reference for the quote knowing that many people also have strong feelings about its quality/veracity.

I think my challenge is therefore to encourage our boys to disregard the notion of alternative facts and instead devote their energies to distinguish if something is a fact or a point of view. Sometimes, as in the case of Kyrie Irving’s recent assertion that the earth is flat, the truth is evident. Other times the exercise is a trip down a rabbit hole and any resource I list as helpful on that front would, no doubt, immediately be labeled by some as an expression of a biased point of view. And that’s the truth…