Why Do We Sometimes Insulate Ourselves from the Truth?

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finding the truth

It’s an interesting phenomenon we observe during this election season, the adoration of a candidate or perhaps unrelenting allegiance regardless of their position or their truthfulness on an issue. We watch as one candidate attacks the other with untrue or incredibly stretched statements. They want so desperately to win they are willing to diminish their honor. For some voters, they are so desperate to experience a candidate they are willing to overlook reality.

In his book “Hillbilly Elegy”, J.D. Vance describes how a culture can adopt a negative position on a topic, such as President Obama’s birthplace, regardless of how many ways it is proven that he is and always has been a US citizen. They refuse to adopt the factual position, even if they wish it wasn’t true. It could also be the way a candidate twists a kernel of truth into a complete untruth and we accept it as fact. Some politicians continue to perpetuate an untruth even when the fact checkers have proven them wrong. We can certainly point fingers at the candidates, but we can also point to the surrogates and the followers for believing or obfuscating away from the truth.

We, at times, experience this in our own lives. I once was in a car accident which was the fault of the other driver. I was completely stopped and the other driver ran into me. The arrangement of the cars said it was his fault, the witnesses said it was his fault, the police report said it was his fault, the insurance company said it was his fault, yet he kept insisting with his insurance company that the accident was my fault. A lie he was willing to perpetuate to keep his insurance rates from going up even in the face of truth.

How can we believe without evidence that the other candidate is corrupt, minority people are dangerous, a female cannot run a company, all pharmaceutical companies are cheating us, etc. Imagine people who claim that an accused person did not murder someone when all the forensic, video, eyewitness, and other evidence says otherwise because they desperately want to believe it.

So, what motivates us to adopt untruths? Why don’t we demand the truth from politicians and others even if we support them? Perhaps for a number of reasons. We could be delusional, actually believing the lie (a psychological pathology called mythomania). Some of us love drama and want to perpetuate the lie so the drama can continue. Or we like being caught up in a movement such as getting a candidate elected, being part of a club, or believing reality TV (we drink the Kool-Aid). We want to believe because we enjoy being witness to the fight and want to sustain it as long as we can. Or perhaps we are so biased that we want desperately to believe the person is not guilty, that I can afford that car payment when I can’t, or the candidate would be great (change) once elected. Sometimes we ignore the truth to get something we want despite the possibility of unintended consequences. Perhaps a candidate likes the limelight so much, has little in the way of substance to say, and therefore must make up stuff to appear to maintain relevancy and garner support. The media may have a hand in perpetuating untruths by continually airing and debating drama for ratings.

For some, such as political surrogates, they are paid to believe, lie, and spin, attempting to hide the truth from others. Perhaps the lie is a way of placing ourselves or others in a better position. Some will seek out information to confirm what they already believe, ignoring the facts and/or contrary information. It’s almost a type of cognitive dissonance when we are challenged with contradictory positions in our own mind that mentally strains us, wanting to justify our belief and ignore some of the facts so we feel better.

Just because something is said does not necessarily make it true (the internet is full of true and untrue information). Something motivates us to lie or believe untruths. Inferred justification may be ok to start with, but then we must either validate or disprove the facts.

Often in the end, we are human and believe what we believe. Some of which is biased based on historical information. Imagine a child who has gotten caught stealing money from his mother’s purse time after time and then is accused of stealing again when he actually didn’t do it. There is some legitimacy to this initial inference but what we infer must be supported by facts. For many a reorientation to the truth is necessary to strengthen our democracy.

Whatever the reason, most of these types of lies are not healthy for a strong society. I believe the world would be a better place if supporters (not just the opposition) could hold candidates to the truth even when they don’t like the truth. For me, I choose candidates based on two things. First his/her position on the important issues of the day – are they sound, will they achieve the intended result, and are they right for the country? Second his/her character. Is the individual of sound moral fiber, someone I believe is honest, trustworthy, and will do the right thing, regardless of party ideology or convenience? That they truly have the best interest of the country in the forefront of their mind and heart.

I hope we can get closer to being truth seekers and making choices based on true facts, not fiction or lies. That we hold our public figures to a high standard of truthfulness, even when we are a supporter.

In the end, we must know and accept the truth to make informed decisions, not isolate ourselves from it, even if we don’t like the truth.

Steve

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Steve Goodrich is the president and CEO of The Center for Organizational Excellence, Inc. (COE). He has over 35 years of leading organizations and advising top government and private sector leaders in organizational effectiveness strategies to improve performance and effectiveness. Steve’s passion for excellence is the foundation for creating and guiding COE to serve the American people and care about its clients, employees and partners. As a well-known thought leader, Steve is routinely sought out by organizations and federal thought leaders, including FedNewsRadio, to speak on effective ways to transform organizations. As part of his commitment to fundamentally changing government, Steve serves as a co-founder and vice chair of the Government Transformation Initiative (GTI). GTI’s primary focus is to support passage of legislation that establishes a non-partisan Federal Board to oversee and direct the transformation of federal government programs, functions and activities so they are more efficient, effective and economical. He has served on the White House Committee for Educational Reform, is currently the Vice Chair of the Association of Management Consulting Firms, and is often found on the speaking circuit.

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