My Father's Greatest Gift: Multiple Truths
A reflection before Father’s Day.
“But how can we know what is correct?”
I was sitting with a group of executives, discussing the advantages of social technologies. One member of the group was quick to point out what he perceived as a major disadvantage: Too much information from too many sources made it difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain which source was right, which authority he should trust.
I gently suggested that the very nature of his question reflected a very Boomer mind-set.
Younger generations are much less likely to imagine that there is one correct answer or a single authority. Their experiences surfing the Internet have given them a better sense than many from older generations of the way situations can morph and be interpreted differently, but not less correctly, by different reporters.
Generation X, with its value of self-reliance and preference for options and choice, is particularly prone to recognizing and appreciating multiple perspectives. Recently, one of my readers introduced me to a very Gen X Web site, specifically designed to make it easy for users to compare and contrast how news sources all over the world cover the same stories. Mondokio, which means “world eye” in Italian, allows you to read the coverage of major news events in local markets by clicking on a global map.
One of my most vivid memories of time spent with my father as a little girl was watching the evening news together. Each time, after Walter Cronkite confidently closed his broadcast with “And that’s the way it is,” my father would ask me one question: What do you think the “other guy’s” point of view would be? Night after night, he painstakingly pointed out the possibility of another perspective, in doing so giving me perhaps his greatest gift.
No account represents an absolute truth. All reporting is, by definition, a retelling of the story, a conscious selection of facts to include, a decision to omit details considered extraneous or unnecessary. In most instances, I believe this retelling is done with a sincere attempt to provide a straightforward account, but it’s nonetheless shaped through the writer’s lens, based on the reporter’s sense of what will be important, interesting, and relevant to the intended audience.
To all who crave the sense of certain truth implied by Mr. Cronkite’s confident assertion, as my father’s daughter, I would argue that the information environment of 50 years ago was probably more difficult and dangerous than today’s. With fewer sources, it was more difficult to understand the perspective of the teller. Not surprisingly, there was a greater tendency to accept one report as the only reality. I find today’s potential for confusion much less troubling than yesterday’s veneer of a single truth.
Today it is obvious, painfully so to some, that there are multiple perspectives and versions of the truth. Interpreting them wisely is our responsibility.
The original is here, by Tammy Erickson @ Harvard Business Publishing