26 June 2011

Washing Away the Mud to Gain Clarity in Thinking

Election time is interesting time to watch. There will be all kinds of stories, distortions, lies, accusations, mud slinging, watching of dirty linen in the public with regards to the candidates. The emotions run high and the language used at times become rather unbearable. They provide good lessons for us to train our mind so that we can think clearly for ourselves and not be misled. We can also learn to tell the characters of the people who said those things and also from their behavior too. Lessons like these probable make for a better logic, language and thinking class. Let's start with the simple ones first.

Facts, Interpretation and Judgment
Whenever some one make a statement, we can see it from 3 different points of view (not all may be present).

They are:
  • Facts: Is it true? Is it complete (Partial Facts to confuse is called lie)?
  • Interpretation of Fact: What is the meaning? What is the intention? Normally, we must know the context or environment surrounding the events to make accurate interpretation. Facts are observables (can be observed wrongly of course; if you believe seeing is believing then you are good victims of magicians). Intention and motivation can only be inferred. That is normally the job of the Judge and the Juries.
  • Judgment of Value. People will make statement about the fact and intention as whether it is good or bad and thereby showing their evaluation.
A Simple Example - An Event
Let's say in a shopping mall, you reported that you saw a lady beating a boy child.

Statement of Fact : I saw a lady beating a boy child.

If you said I saw a mother beating her child then you have made some interpretation of facts unless there are additional information that tell you.

Accurate Interpretation Needs More Facts/Information else it is Speculation
Why did you interpret the lady as the mother? It could be auntie or even just anyone unrelated. How can you tell the child was hers? Again, we must have additional facts to make such interpretation. Maybe you heard the child crying "mummy mummy don't beat me!". If there was no such additional fact, please understand that you are making a interpretation of speculation, a probable one but may not be true. We watch movies and the script writer like to use sister being misunderstood as girlfriend to cause jealousy. That was a wrong interpretation of fact - a boy was close with a girl must be boy friend and girl friend. It was just close brother and sister.

Interpretation of Intention and Motivation is Even More Difficult
Let's say we heard the boy calling the lady mommy.

Why did the Mother beat her child?

Is it because the mother is abusive and beat her child on first irritation. OR
Is it because the mother is disciplining her child for some misbehavior (e.g. taking things without paying)?

We can't really tell until we find out more. But in most instances, we are quick to jump to our own conclusion about the intention of people on hearing just one fact or a few facts. And usually proclaim our great interpretation without checking with the person concerned.

Our Background and Past Experience color our Interpretation
A person with a background of suffering under abusive parents is likely to draw the conclusion that it is abusive. There are people who believe that beating children is not right and any such beating is abusive. They will report to the police that the mother had committed the abuse children crime We read about those reports in newspapers in the past.

The Famous Story of Su Dong Po (苏东坡) and the Zen Monk

SuDongPo was a famous Chinese Scholar/Sage/Magistrate. A cartoon about this story is here. DongPo and his Monk friend were meditating one day. DongPo asked his friend what did he see. His friend said he saw a bright Buddha. DongPo proudly told his friend that he saw his friend as a pile of dung. DongPo happily went home to tell his sister about this incidence. He proudly told her sister that the famous monk saw him as a Buddha while he saw him as a dung. His Sister laughed at DongPo that he was actually the dung because we saw with what was in our heart. DongPo's heart had dung inside and therefore saw the Monk as dung whereas the Monk and a Buddha inside and saw DongPo as Buddha!

We See/Interpret from our Heart

The Bible has a similar statement. Titus 1:15 New Living Translation (©2007)
Everything is pure to those whose hearts are pure. But nothing is pure to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, because their minds and consciences are corrupted.

Judgement of Value
After we make our self-proclaimed wise interpretation, we will give our self proclaimed unbiased non-prejudiced judgment on whether the person is good or bad or worthy of trust.

Because we tend to be so full of ourselves that we loose our objectivity, Bible has warning for us. Mat 7:5 New Living Translation (©2007)
Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye.

Next time when you read about comment on so-and-so is such-and-such, please have the following checklist to evaluate the statement:
  1. FACTS:
    Where is the Fact?
    Are the facts complete.
    Did we fall into the trap of only show you those facts to support our version of story?
    Did we only see what we wanted to see in the first place?

    (e.g. there was someone who cited a EP candidate for wasting company money to do his pet project on a car-sharing scheme. He did not tell us that at that times there were quite a few such car-sharing schemes making the scheme actually an innovative business that quite a few businesses want to participate. He was also not aware that in Corporate there are rules and regulation to control investments and any investment of significant size in new project are usually supported with approval from the board).
    What is the meaning?
    What is the intention?
    Are your Interpretation Sound? (Supported by facts, context and over a significant period of time. Or is it just you seeing your own biased in it. To the impure, everything is impure).
    Will someone else make the same interpretation as I?
    What are the values that I used to conclude that it/he/she is good or bad.
    Am I fair, based on the incomplete facts gathered and my likely biased interpretation, to make such a judgment of good or bad?
    Will your judgment be defend-able in a libel suite? If you have doubt, please give the benefits of doubt to them too. 
Hope you can pick your choice for the President Election wisely. May the best man win for the good of Singapore.

See also Positive Interpretation, even a miss, is Good for You

No comments: