I noticed a long time ago that facts are becoming less popular. They are increasingly being replaced by opinions at every turn.
I see this happening daily among both individuals I interview as well as my friends, family members and strangers. It’s rampant online and a staple of social media.
What troubles me about this is many people fail to realize they are even doing it and, therefore, the danger that lies in confusing the two.
I was taught early on in school there are things called facts and separate, other things, called opinions. Facts are things that are known to be true and can be proven true. Opinions are what someone feels about a particular topic and wants to be true.
It is almost like needs and wants. Of course, our society has a lot of trouble with this concept too, but that’s another matter for another column.
Journalists are obsessed with facts. We are trained to seek them out. We get paid to report the news, which includes the actual facts and sometimes people’s opinions of those facts. But always the facts.
We spend our days helping to facilitate the flow of information from reliable sources to a citizenry seeking to be informed. The idea is that by knowing the facts people can make an informed judgement, create their own opinion and then take action based on what they know to be the truth. That’s right, truth and opinion are supposed to work together.
There is nothing worse than being lied to, and putting forth an opinion as fact is the same as lying in my book. What is especially infuriating is when people in leadership positions, especially politicians, deliberately fail to do a little fact checking. They just spout out whatever comes to their mind that they want or feel should be true and place it out there as fact.
To them, their opinion is fact, and they have great disdain for anyone willing to challenge them on that, especially a reporter. Yet, that is exactly what we are supposed to do.
Another staple of a rational society I fear is becoming endangered too is common sense. Most people gather information and using their common sense make a decision about whether that information is believable or unbelievable.
I hear all kinds of outrageous things thrown out everyday as fact that are blindly and earnestly believed without question. If just a smidgen of common sense were applied, surely the believer would discover how outlandish they are being and want to seek the truth.
Sadly, this doesn’t happen either. In the information age, there is so much information it can be hard to sort out what is true and what is false, much less what is fact and what is opinion. Many people only seek what they want to believe. That’s the easiest thing to do.
That has to stop. The death of facts is undermining our democracy. If opinions are allowed to continue to substitute for facts, we will only exacerbate the very real problems we have. We must have the truth to understand and solve them.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org