What Is A Fact?

Have you ever heard the catchphrase “Just the facts, ma’am?” It became famous from the character Sgt. Joe Friday, from the 1950’s police drama Dragnet? Trouble is, this statement about “the facts” is not a factual statement itself. The phrase was never actually uttered by Sgt. Friday, but was an alteration by satirist Stan Freberg of the actual statement, “all we want are the facts, ma’am.”

Which brings us to one of the most controversial questions being asked today, that being “what exactly is a fact?”

By definition, a fact is something that is known or proven to be true. Yet every day, and compounded by Covid, we read or hear one credible source stating that X is the fact, while another credible source is asserting that the fact is really Y, not X. Whether the subject is masks or vaccines, bills in congress, or even financial results posted about a company or a project, it is hard to pinpoint what is truly a fact these days. And boy, does that make effective decision making difficult.

I have often coached people on the need to clearly identify the kinds of statements made by others. Along with statements of fact, there are statements of opinion, hearsay, assumption, inquiry, summary or assimilation, and so forth. The trouble is, a statement of mere opinion or assumption can be cleverly made to sound exactly like something that is known or proven to be true. It often seems that today, there is more evidence of people attempting to mislead with facts rather than lead with them.

There are a couple of extremely important considerations for leaders when it comes to determining whether something is factual or not. First, be reminded that it takes effort to separate the wheat (true facts) from the chaff (illusions of fact). However, it is essential that you verify. Just because something is published on a website or attributed to an expert, does not make it a real fact.

And second, you must be aware that when a statement of opinion or assumption is in total support of how a person personally feels about something, it is sure easy for her or him to make the jump that it is the verifiable truth. That “easy jump” applies to you and me as well.

So, continue to dig to ensure that the facts you are using to build a case or make a decision are the kinds of evidence you can trust and rely on. You may have to confront people sometimes to ensure they can justify what they claim are actual facts, and not just well-articulated opinions in disguise. Never forget one crucial principle which accompanies every important decision – garbage in/garbage out. Make sure you are basing your decisions on inputs of truth and reality and your output results will be much better.

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