We just passed April 1st a day when we closely examine the stories told to us to be sure there are facts to back up them up. None of us want to be caught off-side as an April Fool. We’d do well to carry this vigilance throughout the year as stories without facts are little more than fairy tales. And it is not a joke when they find a place in the governing of companies or countries. Facts force analysis – eschewing them gives leaders too much control.
I learned about leaders and their use (or misuse) of facts during my years as a corporate executive. A good deal of my time was spent proving to our lawyers the facts that verified the company story before I made a presentation publicly. The facts were treated with respect and mattered immensely. As an executive team, we took great pride in being completely credible and never offside of the truth.
Facts can alter perception. Remember the old saying, figures lie and liars figure? Well, I worked with one leader who could maneuver the truth with the best of them. Verbally adept, he carefully stayed on the correct side of the facts while simultaneously being misleading. Not unlike how Bill Clinton definitively denied having ‘sexual relations’ with ‘that woman’ and then had to juggle semantics when confronted with DNA on a blue dress.
Another leader I worked with displayed a total disregard for facts. He didn’t even bother to figure, blatantly conjuring up numbers as he went along. These obvious mistruths were then used to test the allegiance of his staff. Those who challenged him were relegated to the outer circle while those who verified his version of reality were granted positions in the inner sanctum.
Machinations of the truth exist not only in the leadership of companies, they are alive and well in the leadership of countries. Rather than adhering to facts, America has a POTUS who doesn’t hesitate to invent news. The prevalence and forcefulness with which he proffers falsehoods are astonishing.
While I find this alarming, more disturbing is that those who supported his election (many I number among friends) continue to offer him every excuse. As his lies mushroom, ever further out of control, I find this harder to accept. I like these people…we have a lot in common yet I struggle to understand their position.
I have concluded that they have bought into a story and they are sticking to it. We live each day according to our stories about who we are, what we do, the people we support and where we spend our money. It is natural that we see and believe information that supports our beliefs and ignore that which does not.
Unfortunately, once our stories are established we hunker down and close ourselves off from any other possibilities. A wealth of media outlets then reinforces our position. There will always be a news source that helps us find alternative facts that align with our beliefs.
We experience life based on the decisions we make each day to see, feel, or hear information and the current president understands this implicitly. In his book, The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump says, “I play to people’s fantasies.” Amazingly, he has used this manipulation of people’s beliefs to elevate himself to the most powerful station in the world.
However, the real problem (due in part to the free pass he receives from his supporters) arises because when given full reign to believe his own lies – he moves further out of touch with reality. A lack of accountability creates a leader who thinks that the only pertinent facts are his and that he needs only say something for it to be true.
What does it take for the inner truths of our stories to change? Must we wait for a major catastrophic event such as 9/11? People, caught up in their day to day lives tend to dismiss the signposts until something terrible happens to force them out of their complacency. After the initial shock from hitting rock bottom wears off, they take inventory to uncover the factors that allowed the situation to escalate out of control. Then they reassess their beliefs.
It doesn’t have to play out this way. To prevent history from repeating itself we need to have open discussion and civil discourse. We need to broaden the scope of our news sources and insist that to be considered news information must be able to withstand examination of the evidence. We need to be more discerning.
By refusing to accept stories without the validating facts we can make a difference. For some, this will necessitate an adjustment of their internal narrative, which may be difficult but can be done. As English poet William Blake said, The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.
I have observed the noticeable absence of Facebook friends who not too long ago posted their support of Trump almost hourly. I am hopeful that this may be a leading indicator. Most of us were raised to value truth and can remember having our mouths washed out with soap when we had to be reminded of its importance.
Perhaps, my friends are remembering these early lessons and questioning the cause they once believed in. Sometimes we only become aware of what we want by recognizing what we don’t want. On the bright side, maybe something good can come from having a leader whose self-proclaimed stock in trade is the pandering of fantasies. The positive might be that we try harder to build our stories with facts so as not to be caught offside believing fairy tales.