Most disagreements are due to differing interpretations of the facts. For example, John’s glass vase was broken when Carlos dropped it. This is an objective fact – an event that occurred. John is angry because he believes Carlos did it on purpose. John’s interpretation of the event (that Carlos did it on purpose) is what creates meaning and emotion. If Carlos says it was an accident and John believes him, then John’s interpretation will change and so might his anger.
However, if John believes Carlos dropped the glass vase on purpose, and Carlos says he never touched the vase, then it’s not an issue of different interpretations – they are in disagreement on the facts themselves. And their conversation must focus first on agreeing on the facts.
What happens if instead of clarifying the facts, John tells his friends that Carlos dropped the vase on purpose? If John’s friends simply believe him without verifying the facts, they may have accepted false information as fact. At this point, things get very complicated and almost impossible to resolve.
The roots of disagreement are grounded in the facts. And without agreement on the facts, resolution is unlikely.
Conclusions should be based on a clear line of sight back to the facts.
If you accept false information as fact, your sense of reality becomes distorted. When someone believes too much false information, their family and friends will become concerned about them, and are likely to encourage them to seek mental health treatment.
However, when a number of people believe the same false information, they reinforce each other’s views. Their shared beliefs create a group identity, and the group members don’t question the validity of new information. The group’s closed boundaries form an echo chamber that magnifies the information they get and further reinforces their beliefs. The group’s identity is threatened by ideas and people that conflict with the distorted viewpoint that holds the group together so information that conflicts with their beliefs is quickly dismissed. They exist within a group distortion field formed around the conclusions based on the false information they believe is fact.
It’s almost impossible for people deeply caught in a group distortion field to have productive conversations with others who do not share their sense of reality.
Group distortion causes polarization.
Sadly, this is the situation today in the United States. There are huge group distortion fields, with so many people at opposite ends of the poles, it seems like there aren’t any poles left, just a deeply divided country. We are unable to have productive conversations with each other because we can’t even agree on what the truth is, let alone discuss solutions.
It’s easy to see the group distortion when you are looking at a group you don’t identify with. But if you are hoping that one of those people will read this article and recognize themselves, consider this: one of them is probably reading this, hoping you will recognize yourself.
When you look at the level of polarization that is occurring today, it’s likely most of us have accepted some false information that has created distortion. How strongly are you attached to your position? How willing are you to consider the possibility that some of the facts you believe may be wrong?
The way out is to take personal responsibility for your own thinking.
If we want to address this polarization, we need to each begin with ourselves. Use critical thinking and draw your own conclusions based on facts you have verified. Take personal responsibility to:
• Take the time to carefully verify whether the information you have been presented is true.
• Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly. Consider enough facts first.
• Separate opinion and fact. A lot of what is presented as a fact is actually an opinion. Look carefully at what you’re reading, as it’s not always clear at first glance.
• Don’t turn a blind eye toward facts that don’t support your position. Recognize your own cognitive biases and don’t reject the possibility that something is indeed a fact when it conflicts with your predisposed beliefs.
Facts do exist and it’s possible to identify them. It’s true that there is a tremendous amount of disinformation being presented as fact, on the news, in print, and on social media. But if you put in the effort, it’s possible to dig much of them out. See Give Me the Facts, Just the Facts for seven tips on how to surface and verify the facts.
Once you have verified the facts, use critical thinking to analyze them. Recognize your tendencies toward cognitive bias, and use objectivity to analyze the facts. Take a deep breath and set your emotions aside. One way to help to create distance from emotionality is to put yourself in the shoes of someone who does not hold your views.
The roots of disagreement are grounded in the facts, and that’s where the seeds of resolution can be found. Simply agreeing on the facts will not necessarily create resolution, but it is the place to begin, or true resolution will not be possible.
I think all your readers need to follow the links you offer. This is such an important post for all of us. It challenges me to re-think what I accept as fact. You are a valuable resource for all of us!
Thank you, Eileen. Even those of us who believe we are reasonable need to verify the information we receive, especially when that information is inflammatory.
I am so discouraged by the continued hatred being spewed. It’s hard to imagine having a conversation with any of them, even if I do what you are suggesting.
Hi Andy, Some people are trapped in their distortion field and committed to fueling divisiveness. This post is not for them. But many people are weary of the fear and anxiety this causes. My post is for them. There are other next steps, like finding common values. But the place to start is with ourselves.
An excellent, useful, timely, clear and practical post. Thank you for sharing. Beginning with ourselves is good counsel. Very best to you.
Wonderful to hear from you, Rose!
Great article full of wisdom. But there is one question about it I can’t answer: why should a indidual take that road to emancipate himself (again) in the middle of the group pression that is in fact a comfort fit for him or her. Group pressure by people he or she considers as “Friends”, by “his or her”church, by “his or her” party or media. This is realy hard nut to crack as we say in Dutch.
That’s a great question, Michael. As I mentioned, there is a group identity. If someone is strongly identified with a group, it would be difficult to get them to be motivated to leave. We see this with cults. And some of the fringe groups in the United States have that aspect to them. However, I believe most people in the United States are not as strongly identified with their group as they are afraid of the other side. When you start thinking for yourself, you see the cracks in the information coming from all groups, and that is liberating. You can still be friends with the people in the group without discussing politics or whatever it is the holds the group together. In fact, when you first start searching for truth in the information you are presented, I recommend you don’t try to convince your friends to think otherwise. First learn to be comfortable thinking for yourself.
Many, many thanks!!
Thank you, David.
Terrific, Jesse! A master class on human nature and our thought-processes in one fantastic article!
Truly honored by your words, Bob.
Jesse, I agree that facts are one of the elements that lead to conflict. Focusing on facts alone assumes that people are always capable of rational action. Facts are a lot less tricky than feelings / emotions which are a function of individual life experience. Given that feelings are never wrong people’s feeling response and ego identification with how they perceive things adds to the complexity. In my experience venting feeling states is also a critical aspect of resolving conflict.
Completely agree, Stewart. There are many excellent tools to help with conflict resolution, including your excellent book. As I say in my post, “simply agreeing on the facts will not necessarily create resolution, but it is the place to begin, or true resolution will not be possible.” I think acknowledgment of feelings can be helpful before establishing facts, but it doesn’t work well to vent or try to resolve feelings when you are operating from a base of belief in different facts. Another important starting place is whether you are open to reconciling. I think doing your own work of verifying what beliefs you have that might be false can help make you more willing.
Jesse. This is one of the most helpful articles I’ve read. The media clambers for our attention! And this accentuates the problem separating truth from fiction. I will be passing on his article, along with the links, to all my connections. Thanks so much for putting in the time to give clarity and some practical ways to expose our own personal biases.
I appreciate your sharing this with others. Mick. The more each of us takes personal responsibility to separate fact from fiction, the better off we all will be.
Jesse, this is a terrific and insightful post and you have put your finger on a critical issue. That being said, I think the roots go even deeper . In particular, different views of reality emerge because both sides of a polarity are working with not necessrily incorrect facts, but _incomplete_ information. It is like trying to solve one equation with many unknowns. There are inummerable ways to “correctly” fill in the missing values, but there are an even greater number of false narratives if you allow incorrect values to be used. So the challenge is actually greater than simply determining which facts are true and which are not. When faced with uncertainty and incomplete information, even when we are rigorous in making sure each of the dots we are connecting is really there, we tend to draw the picture that is most sonsistent with our inherent belief system. I believe that the best we can do is to identify a false (i.e. inconsistent) narrative when we find one. Proving that your side is “right” is almost never possible. It is why we need to be both humble and curious about the stories we hear from those we disagree with.
I agree with you, Pete. Identifying false information is a first step. But it is much more complex as you point out. The narrative is the story/interpretation of a collection of many facts. The point of this post is not to show people how to point out false narratives to others, but to encourage us to each take a serious look at the facts and perhaps our own narrative. Many thanks for deepening the conversation.
A very useful set of comments as I decide whether or not to turn on the TV to watch the impeachment hearings. Thank you.
Thanks for this post. I like the concept that disagreeing on opinions is different than disagreeing on facts. I enjoy your idea that first identifying the facts is a must. I think this often gets overlooked. Do you believe in business settings it is practical to start a debate with a line like “First, lets define the facts”? Also, do you believe people rush to a decision and skip getting agreement? I think when this happens hurt feelings can fester until the next time. Finally, I appreciate your comments how at times people can pay attention to the facts that support their case. As leaders we need to consider all facts to make an educated decision.
I agree with you, Kevin, and appreciate your framing of these points. If we are talking from a different set of assumptions of reality, we need to understand that. So yes, this is definitely the place to start. And I especially appreciate your pointing out that the place we need to put our emphasis is on ourselves – to make sure we have surfaced and considered the facts so we can make informed decisions.
Thank you, Jesse for such a great topic and post. I liked your analysis of how the group’s identity can be threatened by ideas and people that conflict with the distorted viewpoint that holds the group together which also explains the situation today in the United States. I hope many people read your post and understand the facts you laid out. Thanks again
I appreciate your thoughts, Adam. Groups have a way of developing a life of their own. The pull of group identity is strong, even when the purpose becomes distorted. We see examples of this throughout history. And sadly, it does look like this is happening in the United States today.