Has this ever happened to you? You write or say something that you absolutely believe to be true, only to discover — too late — that the something you said wasn’t true at all.
In circumstances such as these, I’ve been called a liar to my face because I repeated something in good faith that I believed to be true…but turned out not to be.
In the current information environment, with the avalanche of contradictory “facts” that are pouring off the internet into our brains on a daily basis, it is next to impossible to avoid doing this occasionally…unless you commit yourself to studiously researching every single fact before you utter it.
This is very time consuming…and it has the net effect of stifling communications.
Now that we have two sets of fact — facts that some people are now calling the Blue Fact Set and the Red Fact Set — we often find ourselves offending the parishioners of either the Blue Church or the Red Church by citing a fact that didn’t come from the fact set they believe to be true.
Being called a liar puts a damper on communications. You are immediately thrust onto the defensive and forced to protect your “fact” from the onslaught of contrary information — or throw in the towel and admit ignorance unless, of course, they’re wrong and you’re right.
If you have ever been in this situation or, if you are like me and you find yourself in this situation quite often, your defense usually comes welling up from some deeply seated belief system and is often shouted in exasperation, “It’s not a lie if I believe it. It’s only a lie if I don’t believe it.”
And that’s a fact. When you have cited information that you thought came from reputable authority, and that turns out not to be case, it’s not a lie. It is merely a mistake.
We make mistakes all the time. Everyone does. (I am not going to say, “That’s why they put erasers on pencils” because it isn’t true. The reason they put erasers on pencils is for your convenience when you make a mistake. In other words, pencil makers are not in the business of encouraging errors but are merely engaged in correcting them.)
There is, of course, another aspect to this problem. Sometimes facts change. Let me use Pluto as an example. For most of my life, I believed that there were nine planets in the Solar System and that the furthermost planet from the sun was Pluto. A few years ago, it was discovered that Pluto doesn’t meet the criteria for planethood and was reclassified as a dwarf planet. I recently discovered that Pluto had been reclassified as a planet again but now I have learned that this was a hoax and that Pluto is still a dwarf planet.
It turns out that the story about Pluto getting its mojo back was an April Fool’s Day prank. It was so successful that Futurism.com, the site that launched the hoax, has since re-edited the article by inserting a disclaimer at the beginning of the piece to make sure that no one really believes that it is true.
In the meantime, I must have spouted this false fact half a dozen times, whenever Pluto came up in the conversation. Now I have to track down all the people I said this to in order to make sure that they don’t labor under the same misapprehension that has inflicted itself on me.
This is why I hate April Fool’s Day and the clever pranksters who practice on gullible fools like me.