I am a liar. I lie for many reasons: I want to be liked, I want to get my way, I don’t want to hurt the feelings of other people. Lying has become a cultural norm defined as political correctness or societal labels such as fair, balanced, objective and informative. But, what if all of this focus on objectivity, fair and balanced information only reveals the truth: That we are all biased, subjective and keen on getting exactly what we want, when we want it?
In church this morning, the visiting pastor declared that a large percentage of statistics can be manipulated. There is even a book about lying with statistics appropriately called How To Lie With Statistics. What are the implications of our love affair with the manipulation of numbers for our own benefit? First, it emphasizes that we are quick to lie as opposed to speaking truth. We use the manipulation of statistics to prove everything from why kids should be indoctrinated to why our government functions best in certain capacities versus others. Statistics are also used to justify individual and collective behavior across the spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds.
How often do we resort to the use of numbers to prove our point? In an age of real-time information and sophisticated graphic design, we have gone beyond simple line graphs and percentages to the design and production of slick and beautiful visual representations: The art of quantitative analysis that makes Edward Tufte excited to get out of bed in the morning.
Numbers are the life-blood of our society. But as the crash of our economy has proven, numbers are merely a facade to a much deeper problem: We are selfish and focused on lying not only to others, but to ourselves.
In addition to being a liar, I am not fair and I am most certainly not balanced. Fairness implies a sense that I am concerned with the well-being of everyone, that I desire the views of everyone to be represented. However, I am too focused on having my thoughts and opinions validated through the words and deeds of like-minded people. In order to be fair, one must appreciate and welcome the opposing view in a safe and neutral environment. Which leads me to ask the question, does such a safe and neutral environment exist or will there always be an element of danger when we try to be fair and balanced truth-tellers?
Balance is an intriguing concept. It is tempting to think that in order to be fair, one must only seek the views that oppose their own in order to learn, grow and dialogue. But in order to be balanced as a human being and to have a balanced worldview, affirming and challenging relationships need to be daily fostered and nurtured. Is it possible to have relationships that are both nurturing in our beliefs and ideals, but also challenging in how we approach those that are completely opposite to us? Or will we constantly live in a state of “us versus them?”
In the confessional spirit of this blog post, I am challenged to learn how to better tell the truth. I strive to be more fair and balanced in my relationships. Most importantly, I want to be a little less “interesting” in the eyes of others and a little more in tune with the real needs of the community and sometimes that is downright messy, time-consuming and painful. In the midst of the mess, that is where we find true beauty, not manufactured out of a safe and secure surplus, but born out of a deep-rooted need for what is and isn’t there.