Steven Wallace

Steven Wallace

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE: One of my former colleagues often stated, “There is nothing as devastating to an opinion as the facts.” Over the years, this little statement has been proven true over and over. The sad reality is too often people do not know how to distinguish between the two.

According to Webster’s dictionary a fact is “anything that is done or happens; anything actually existent; any statement strictly true; truth; reality.” For an example, an easily provable fact is my birthday: I was born on Jan. 24, 1966, in Muskegon, Mich.

An opinion is defined as “indicating a belief, view, sentiment, conception.” Indicators of opinion are when sentences include words such as, “Generally, it is thought,” “I believe that,” “It is a sad day when.”

Facts can be changed to opinions very easily. For example, somebody could say, “Steve was born on Jan. 24, 1966, and he looks great for 46 years old.” This is an opinion, but you have to know that “looks great” are descriptive words for this to become clear.

Descriptive words are subjective, or state someone’s opinion. It can become unclear how to separate fact and opinion when many people hold the same opinion. This is when it becomes important to understand what the word bias means.

According to an online article I found, “A bias is an opinion or an attitude we have for or against something.” It continues by stating, “A bias usually stems from our feelings rather than from rational thought. What is very important to realize is that all of us are biased. We are biased for or against certain people, activities and ideas. We become biased because certain people, activities, or ideas do not appeal to us at some level. Of equal importance to realize is that we have ‘good biases’ as well, that is we favor certain people, activities, or ideas. In these cases, our biases are still irrational, just like our negative ones.”

This point really stood out to me when one of the independent candidates stated that when he was knocking on doors, the first thing people asked him was, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?” Right away, there was a bias. He further stated when he told folks he was an independent, they were more likely to listen to him.

Uncontrolled, strong biases can bring out anger and create hatred toward those who disagree — just look at what is happening in the Middle East these days. Adding to the dilemma of when facts and opinions become very challenging to separate is the reality that many of our biases are not based on fact or reasoned judgment, but on opinions handed down to us by parents, teachers and friends.

Why am I writing about this? Why is this all important to know about facts, opinions, bias and pieces of them jumbled together? In February of this year, several psychologists from Cornell University released a study that purportedly proved that “people — i.e. we Americans — aren’t smart enough for democracy to flourish” anymore.

A quote from their research states, “The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it.” They go on to say, “But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies.”

The research indicates people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people’s ideas. The reason for the disconnect? If you have gaps in your knowledge in a given area, then you’re not in a position to assess your own gaps or the gaps of others.

As I listened to candidates from all parties speak at several forums over the last week or so, I couldn’t help but mull over facts, opinions and people’s ability to actually select a candidate. I heard truth mixed with opinion, pure opinions (albeit very passionate at times), and lots of statistical data. The brutal truth: I don’t really know which is which.

I will tell you what I am going to do though. Before I go to the ballot box, I’m going to do more research on voting records, alliances, backgrounds, etc. I am going to research their facts and opinions. Popularity, looks and charisma will not be part of my selection process. And when I get done with my homework, I am going to make the most informed vote possible on Nov. 6 that I have ever cast in my life. I hope you do the same.

MEMBERS IN THE NEWS: SMMC welcomes Tightlines Landscaping, based in Brunswick; Community Oxygen Services in Topsham; and Head Beach Campground and Cottages at Small Point in Phippsburg to its membership.

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