There is my truth, there is your truth, and there is fact

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In this blog, which was originally featured in Influence, I talk about being mindful of interpretation.

A few years ago, I was at lunch with a coach and we were chatting about experiences and interpretation of events. They used this example:

If someone stands outside this restaurant with a clipboard and asks you questions about this lunch afterwards, you will have a very different version to me. Yet we are sharing the same experience. How you feel about this interaction, what you ate, the whole experience will be individual to you.

This has stayed with me ever since. It has made me more mindful of interpretation after meetings and more in tune with how others may feel.

Today, I’m reminded of this conversation as the importance of truth continues to be a conversation; cancel culture is now a common phrase. Debate, discussion and opinion seem to be feared.

I’m reminded because your truth and fact are not the same the thing and this where I think we get stuck.

There is a legal definition of a fact: the truth about events as opposed to interpretation.

Interpretation is the importance here. Because we turn our interpretation into fact all the time. This is, in part, I believe due to the changing nature of language. Words like awesome, horrific, vile, astonishing are used to describe everyday things when years ago they were use sparingly to describe things that were truly dreadful or truly wonderful.

If I use a very basic example from my workout at the weekend, hopefully you’ll see where I’m coming from: I was using a 10kg dumbbell, which was heavy.

But it was only heavy to me. The fact is that I was using a 10kg dumbbell. Whether it is heavy or not is individual and therefore true to that person. We can discuss the heaviness of the weight and what is heavy to you and heavy to me – but here you can see how truth and fact differ.

In communications and PR we merge fact and truth all the time. We create stories that are all about interpretation to persuade and influence and at the same time, we create beliefs in others based on these messages.

It’s one of the many things that make us unique as humans – our ability to create myths and make something magical when it is not. But with that we have to have caution. We must be able to identify the difference between facts and interpretation of those facts.

Importantly though we have to be mindful of challenge. We should be able to ask someone to verify something or to question the validity of a comment without outrage. Because if we lose our ability to question, to be curious or to ask, then we are losing our ability to make our own judgements, our own interpretations.

I’d love to know what you think and whether there is a need to consider how we interpret fact and truth and whether we question the things we hear, see or read in society today enough.

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