Most of us are seeing and hearing overwhelming amounts of news and commentaries around the issues of racism and the related injustices that are being highlighted. For many whites, the news is surprising us, revealing incidences and practices we were not aware of. Many of us are surprised, shocked, appalled and overwhelmed with sadness and in many cases shame for what our race has perpetrated against another race. Sure, we can say we, as individuals, did not commit the acts that are so horrific, but somehow we need to accept that we are a part of a race that for centuries has perpetrated unconscionable injustices and therefore, in my opinion, we need to accept, if nothing else, our responsibility for helping make the long-overdue changes in beliefs and actions. And, of course, it is you, the readers’, right to your opinion on this.
Whatever our race, a key responsibility involves educating ourselves with information and reliable commentaries from a variety of voices. Consider this: someone can state facts that may be true but biased because they only focus on one aspect of a situation. These kinds of “factual” collections can be viewed as a biased argument for creating a belief or attitude because they are “factual.” For facts to be useful, they need to encompass a broad and comprehensive examination of a subject or situation. And we all need to be critical thinkers and careful consumers of the facts that are being shared – to what extent do they show a lack of bias or instead they appear to be an attempt to influence by only providing certain facts.
Similarly, opinions sometimes are stated as if they are facts. Said with a definite tone of voice, an opinion can project a message of something that should be believed and accepted as a truth. An opinion is someone’s perspectives that reflects their beliefs and values.
There also are educated, uneducated and less-educated opinions, those that a person states as factual and yet has little or no actual facts to back up their statements. These often can be voiced as definite and absolute in their delivery. “There is no way that anyone in their right mind would believe…” In other words, if you don’t believe what I just said, you are wrong.
Again, it is important to consider the degrees to which an opinion has a foundation in some degree of reliable research.
I invite you to consider what your opinions are about the things that we are learning that give us some facts that are irrefutable, such as recorded statements and actions: I believe most of us would say that we cannot deny the murder of George Floyd – the camera does not lie. There have been enough facts to back up what we see on television depicting his death.
I also invite you to consider that degrees to which the facts that you are gathering are balanced. Are you only hearing or reading about one group’s action or even a few members of a group’s actions. Are you seeing only a small percentage of something, something that possibly needs to be changed but nonetheless is not representative of a high percentage of behaviors? As we all struggle with what is going on with regard to police brutality, as critical thinkers and careful consumers I believe we need to do our own research to make sure we are balanced and fair about what we are calling facts and appreciating what we have created as fact-based opinions.
My recommendation to all of us is to recognize the differences between and among reliable, balanced facts versus those that create a bias by what they emphasize and what they do not include. We need to understand when an opinion is based on adequate, researched and balanced facts versus being strictly someone’s perspective that might not be supported by reliable, balanced facts.
In my opinion in these very challenging times, as citizens we have a responsibility to differentiate among these in order to form opinions that are based on truth, truth that is documented and balanced. From that point we need to consider actions that will reflect the resulting opinions, that can contribute to strengthening our values and changing policies and practices that are in violation of the core of what we say we believe as Americans.
We each need to do our homework. We need to keep an open mind to the possibility that some of our opinions are misguided because we have not had the kind of balanced, thorough and reliable research to back them. We then need to be willing to make the necessary changes in those opinions and resulting behaviors to reflect what is clearer and fairer. Again, these are my reflections and opinions for you to consider and weigh against your own.
Invitation for Reflection
- In the things you have thought about today, which would you consider based on unbiased facts and which are the opinions you have generated? To what extent do you think your opinions reflect unbiased facts versus being grounded more in family legacies, beliefs or the messages that highly directive people may seem to be forcing you to accept?
- In what ways can you improve becoming more discerning about facts versus opinions? How do you think this might influence your thinking in the future?
Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Lakeside Global Institute