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Column: Let's face the facts, truth is complicated
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

Sometimes kids lie.

You ask whether they ate candy during naptime and they respond, “No,” but their chocolate-smudged face tells another story.

You tell them to pick up the clothes in their room and they say they didn’t put them there. It’s unclear who else would have dropped their jeans and T-shirt and wadded up socks on the floor.

Often they lie because they don’t want to be in trouble.

Sometimes they lie because they want to convince themselves something else is true. That kind of lie can seem as real as the truth. 

It’s those kinds of lies we tell ourselves that are the hardest to combat.

I’m no stranger to denial. In fact, I’ve convinced myself on more than one occasion that something right in front of me wasn’t true.

One memorable case was in college.

I awoke in my dorm room to see a shadowy figure in the corner. I should have been more terrified than I was. I convinced myself I wasn’t seeing what I was seeing. I shut my eyes. I opened them again. I told myself it was dark and I must be imagining it.

Then my suitemate came in the room and tossed the shadowy figure out of our suite before I’d had the chance to even think of what could have happened. 

What did happen was a student heavily under the influence of something, on the dry campus of Berry College, had stumbled into our suite looking for his girlfriend. He apparently was more frightened than I was and peed while cowering in the corner of my dorm room.

Telling myself he wasn’t there didn’t make him go away.

I didn’t want to face the truth of a shadowy figure in my room, so I convinced myself it wasn’t true.

In the age of misinformation and polarization, it seems we often deny what’s right in front of us — or at least the other side sure is denying the facts.

A New Yorker article quotes the authors of “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us” as saying that “providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it.”

And if we’re not denying something we don’t want to believe, we’re accepting something because we want it to be true.

A University of North Georgia professor recently told a Times reporter that “we have a tendency as human beings to uncritically accept any information that supports our views.”

Scores of studies have been done on confirmation bias. Some say we get a rush of dopamine when consuming information that supports what we think. 

These statements support what I think. In fact, I read that New Yorker article and probably got a rush of dopamine while sitting at my desk thinking, “Yasss! That!” 

Do I know if it’s true? Well, I scanned the article and didn’t read the book, so I probably have no place in saying whether it’s true or not. That doesn’t mean it’s not true, of course.

Any good newspaper is interested in the truth. It reports all the sides of a story it can and then lets readers come to their own conclusion about what is true, based on what they’ve read and their own experiences with the topic.

While the phrase “fake news” has taken hold across the land, newspapers continue to be some of the only sources interested in providing unbiased information. Sometimes there are pieces of the story that reporters don’t know. More often there are a lot of pieces of the story that a friend on Facebook doesn’t know. More often there are a lot of pieces of the story that public relations professionals either don’t know or don’t tell. 

When you get one side of the story, sometimes from a less than accurate source, and mix it with some denial or some confirmation bias, you land here in 2020. 

Throw on top of that the struggle the news industry faces in funding journalism as traditional revenue streams evaporate, and the future past 2020 seems bleak. 

We all clamor for the truth and raise our fists against the lies but none of us seem able to truly determine fact from fiction.

We need professionals seeking to tell as many sides of the story as possible. But the story is often much more complicated than that child lying about whether he ate candy during naptime. The truth of that situation is simple — either he did or didn’t eat the candy. The truth of whether criminal charges against someone are fair, whether a school is safe, whether a candidate’s ideas are good — none of that is cut and dried.

So let’s wipe the chocolate smudges off our cheeks and face the facts — none of us has the monopoly on truth.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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