Expiring Minds WANT to KNOW

“I just want the facts, ma’am.” (Dragnet)

“Quit yer’ crying. Tell me what what happened.” (My mom)

There was a time when facts mattered a whole lot. In my last few years of teaching, my students couldn’t even identify facts in a simple business case. For anyone who might not have had the great privilege of taking a class in basic business communication, here’s a standard, little, beginner-level case.

Lamont goes to the electronics store and buys a Toshiba stereo on sale. It’s a huge markdown and Lamont is very happy. He’s SO happy he doesn’t see the numerous signs that say,

ALL Sales on clearance items are FINAL.’

Lamont gets home, hooks up the stereo, engages the Bluetooth with his iPhone, and proceeds to enjoy all kinds of random music and advertising on Youtube. Lamont is very happy with his purchase until, two months later, the stereo just stops working. He sends an email to the store with a scan of the receipt and a photo of the stereo. He is outraged and wants his money back.

You work in customer service and when you arrive at work on Monday morning, Lamont’s email is the first thing you see. Your hands are tied. You agree that two months isn’t very long to have a stereo, but the store’s policy in this regard is very clear and very strict. It wouldn’t be a clearance sale if stuff could come back into stock. Write the message to Lamont.

I taught them how to approach a case like this and, for the first 12 or so years I taught this course, students mostly got the problem right. They refused the request and offered a discount on a future purchase. They might not have constructed the message correctly (as a bad news message, the bad news should appear toward the end after goodwill and an explanation of store policy) but they got the right answer. They could find the facts, the salient fact being, “You bought the thing on clearance. Signs saying ‘All Sales Final’ were everywhere.”

The last five or so years of my career, many of my students could not distinguish important (and instructive to them in their role as a customer service guy) facts from extraneous information. Some even asked me I how KNEW the facts were FACTS and not opinions. And they argued. I despaired over some of them being able to keep one of the fascinating jobs at Enterprise Rent-a-Car for which they were paying so much money for training. The students in the College of Business were among the best and brightest at the university; to get into the program, they had to have a GPA of 3.0. For teaching? A simple C sufficed. Philosophy had no GPA requirement at all.


Every day I see disputes over facts. We should not dispute facts; we should dispute opinions. Facts, by definition, are indisputable. They are reality, non-negotiable, absolute. We can respond to facts differently, but that does not change the facts. For example. I am 5’1″. I can’t change that because I ‘want’ to or don’t ‘believe’ in it. I need a step stool. My desires can’t alter that. Another fact, my hip is worn out. I currently am happily cruising around on the effects of a cortisone shot, but that has NOT reversed the existing wear on my hip NOR will it prevent further damage. It just makes me FEEL better.

What are NOT facts? Opinions and beliefs. Of those two, only opinions can be disputed with evidence.

Believers do not care at all about facts. “Truth” for them is a matter of how they “feel” about something and the selective sorting of “evidence” to support what they have already decided to be true.

The point of this is when you open your Facebook page and you see some rant, look to see if the rant is based on the objective evalulation of facts or someone’s set of beliefs. Beliefs justify anything the believer wants to justify, whether it’s trophy hunting, teachers should carry weapons into the classroom, anyone who hates Trump is a liberal (I’m not a liberal), MAGA!, etc. ad nauseum.

My tack in this situation is, “If beliefs, then move on.” Why?

“I believe (whatever),” is a fact and there’s no disputing facts. πŸ˜€


19 thoughts on “Expiring Minds WANT to KNOW

      • P.S. Wave toward the hills toward the east, toward San Diego State for me. I loved working there the whole time, even when it was no longer great. I was sad to leave.

      • Flew over it yesterday, on my way home. Back in CO. Short trip. Sounds like you had a great teaching experience and made a difference in many lives, even as the change in ability to discern fact from opinion must be mind boggling. It was certainly a challenge when doctoring to keep a straight face sometimes and then provide necessary education.

      • I appreciate the Mission Trails info, and look forward to going back. We may do a more extended visit in the next year or three. This was short, just a taste of ocean. Also the first time leaving Lucy as a solo cat–she did very well with my niece staying overnights with her. Wasn’t sure how her aged self would handle this. Didn’t get the tacos, also on the list for next time. BA has a viral crud and so soup became the dinner of choice on our last night.

  1. As you might guess, I don’t have many people I consider friends or even friendly who are of the fact-free camp. Garry has a few to whom I refuse to talk and he barely talks to either … and maybe one of my own — and she’s an online friend.

    She told me that the media all lie about stories.

    I said my husband and MANY OF OUR FRIENDS are news people and they do NOT LIE ABOUT THE NEWS. They never did and they do not now. She said “But I’ve heard …” and I cut her off with ‘I don’t care what nonsense you hear. It is simply NOT true. News people are dedicated to finding the truth and this is NOT a matter of opinion.”

    She seemed lost and we shortly hung up the phone. I can’t deal with it. That’s where my patience absolutely finishes. How you survived all those years of teaching, well … Dog bless you!

    • Thank you — dog has definitely blessed me with my own version of “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

      I don’t think the media lies. I do think some media outlets spin facts as they wish and others make news out of nothing, such as “XYZ may testify if he’s subpoenaed” which is, of course, not news, but it is a fact. I believe the responsibility lies with the consumer to sift through the spin, check the veracity and completeness of information and realize “may” doesn’t mean anything. It’s always true in an infinite universe! πŸ™‚

  2. And I love your title. Had a patient when I was a resident who was a great reader of the National Enquirer. I developed diplomatic skills in helping her suss out the facts of her health issue from the informational clippings she would bring me.

  3. I love this, Martha. And I’m glad I hadn’t seen the daily prompt because I am bit het up a bit about a situation here (which I have thought about writing about), but I don’t want to stress because it is not going to change anything. The Government wrote to our national broadcaster complaining that a journalist’s story on the Government’s tax cuts had multiple errors of fact and contained opinion (our public broadcaster must not stray into opinion so that it can remain unbiased). So the Board pulled the story. It was found that the story contained no errors of fact. There was some analysis and opinion drawn from that. A modified piece has seen been re-instated. In the past, the Government would have gone out and defended its position through ‘sympathetic’ broadcasters, while complaining about the ‘bias’ of the public broadcaster. I could go on about how the broadcaster didn’t assert its independence against the unsubstantiated ‘opinion’ of the Government, etc, etc. But I’ll stop there.

    Now don’t get me started on the anyone who is agin us is a liberal (or a mad greenie) ‘truth’… I think I need a cup of tea.

    • Sigh.

      “Our” president has made sure our public broadcaster has lost funding two years in a row. Various supporters of the “president” and right-wing bot-mouths decry public media as “ultra-leftist,” “socialist,” “biased” etc. But it isn’t. All that’s happened is that objective fact supports a more leftist stance than the gubmint (Texan for government). It’s true that public media here is more “artsy-fartsy” but that’s to be expected as it’s partially supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities (which has also been cut radically).

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