The Many Sides of the Truth

If you were to ask people in the technology industry to name the best commercial ever made, the majority would likely cite “1984” from Apple. That commercial, which aired during the 1984 Super Bowl, introduced the Macintosh personal computer. In fact, Advertising Age ranked “1984” as first on its list of the 50 greatest commercials.

The Apple commercial is incredibly well-done but I find another from the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. to be even more memorable. Like 1984, “Points of View” also relies on black-and-white imagery and a simplistic voice-over. Watch it:

The commercial shows the same event from multiple perspectives, each with a different interpretation of what is happening. The payoff line is powerful: “It’s only when you get the whole picture you can fully understand what’s going on.” The commercial reinforces Guardian’s position of “open, honest, fearless journalism” and suggests it provides fair and balanced coverage. Balance is something we all need even more now; 30+ years after the commercial first aired.

I was reminded of the “Points of View” commercial while reading the book ‘Truth: How the Many Sides to Every Story Shape Our Reality.’ The author, Hector Macdonald, doesn’t try to differentiate truth from falsehood. Rather he reminds us how dangerous it is to assume that we have the truth and others do not. We all suffer from confirmation bias – we see the world through distorted lenses which support our existing beliefs and filter out contradictory ones.

Due to this bias, Macdonald says there can be “competing truths” which are supported by three kinds of people: advocates, misinformers, and misleaders.

  • Advocates select competing truths to create a reasonably accurate impression of reality so as to achieve a specific result.
  • Misinformers innocently propagate competing truths which unintentionally distort reality.
  • Misleaders deliberately deploy competing truths to create an impression of reality they know is not true.

Most people fall in the category of misinformers, repeating information they have read/heard without stopping to ask if there are other points of view.

Disappointingly, Macdonald doesn’t provide any guidance on how to differentiate between the three types of people nor any method for judging which of the competing truths are better than others. For me, I combat fake news through rigorous fact-checking and use of the baloney detection kit. When I have a strong point of view, I try to be open-minded by asking myself what would cause me to change my opinion and then diligently look for that evidence.

Science trains us that there is a single answer to most questions. But, as the Guardian commercial vividly shows, in life there can be many sides of the truth.

, ,

One Response to The Many Sides of the Truth

  1. Jeff Winter October 6, 2019 at 6:30 pm #

    Extremely relevant post given today’s political discourse. I have attempted these past years to ask more questions / do more listening to better understand other sides of the issues. I have found this approach reduces the “temperature” and helps everyone get to a more reasonable middle ground. Have been applying this technique to other parts of my life. So far, it’s been helping.

Leave a Reply