Yes, Miss Trunchbull, Sir!

Does this remind you of any discussion you’ve ever had?

I’m a cyclist, and cyclists (like most other people) put a premium on being right.  Which is to say, cyclists (like most other people) tend to speak in absolutes.

“Shimano [a bicycle part manufacturer] is crap!”

“Steel [a frame material] is real!”

“Lighter is better [referring to the weight of a bicycle].”

Etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum.

When applied to bike parts, this can be annoying, but it’s not really awful.*

But what if you’re involved in a debate over an important issue (and let’s make it a complex issue, like war or economic, and not something fairly straightforward like “5+5=10″**).

So you’re involved in this debate and someone turns to you and says “you’re wrong.”  Period.  End of matter.

The problem with that, I think, is that it is a termination statement.  It ends the debate, because at least one of the parties is so convinced that they’re right that nothing the other party says or does could possibly convince them otherwise (and note that the otherwise is not necessarily even that they’re wrong).

The problem is that we tend to take opinions and turn them into facts.  Opinions, of course, are subject to challenge; facts, on the other hand, are not.

It’s interesting that the law recognizes a distinction between statements of fact and statements of opinion.  In the matter of defamation, for example.  “John Doe is a drug pusher” is a statement of fact.  It can be proven one way or the other.  Under the law concerning defamation, it is likely to be actionable.  “I think Jane Roe is a drug pusher,” on the other hand, is not a statement of fact.  It is a statement of the speaker’s opinion.  In most cases, it is not legally actionable.

Perspective matters.  Just this morning, I happened across a discussion which will seem silly to most readers of great seriousness as to whether it’s better to ride a bicycle with or without some kind of food retention (toe clips, clip-in pedals, etc.).  Most of the discussion was written without any notion of each writer’s perspective.  Strictly in my own view 🙂 I think we’d be better off expressing conditional, perspective-linked views and opinions, rather than facts.

Arguments set up in terms of facts tend to run their participants up against a wall.  Either you’re right o you’re wrong.

Most of the time, the Truth?  That’s somewhere in-between.


*Or maybe it is.  Maybe it’s the same thing as saying “you’re wrong.”

**Don’t get me wrong.  I love facts.  I love the fact that 5+5+10.  But even then, perspective is important.  5+5=10 only if you’re working in Base 10.  If you’re working in Base 8, 5+5=12.  If you’re working in hexadecimal notation (Base 16), 5+5=A.  I’ll leave working it out in binary as an exercise for the reader :->.


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