Friday, April 22, 2005

Just the facts, ma'am.

I have truly been amazed at the reactions I have gotten from other people about the election of Pope Benedict XVI. It just goes to show that the cliche is true: "A little learning is a dangerous thing."

I was talking to a very nice lady about this the other day. She said that one of her co-workers told her that the pope was a Nazi. Not true, I said. He was compelled by law to join the Hitler Youth movement and the army when he was old enough, but he in fact deserted the Nazi Army, putting his life at risk (likely his family's lives as well) because he disagreed with the war and with what the party was doing. He was intercepted on the road home, by another group of troops, who should have shot him for deserting, but because they were also against the war and he was wounded (arm injury) they let him go home. His father picked up their family from the town where the Holy Father was born because there were many many Nazi sympathizers there and his father, a police officer, strongly opposed the Nazi party. The nice lady I corrected said, "Really? I didn't know that." I can only pray that she has the courage to correct her colleague after she received the facts.

It makes you think about how many bits of "information" all of us pass along on a daily basis without knowing all of the facts. I know I do it myself.

I love my husband. We laugh all the time about his quest for information. For our entire relationship, he has asked me questions about things he didn't know-and he knows an awful lot (Why did Chirac get elected?). Many times, I know the answer, but (yes, it happens) often I don't know the answer. (Me: How would I know? DH: You took French, you know more about France than me. Is it unreasonable for me to ask you?) The thing with my DH (dear husband)was that he couldn't take "I don't know" for an answer. So he would press me for an explanation of anything he didn't know. Under intense interrogation, I would hypothesize an answer. During our courtship, I prefaced my hypothesis with, "Well, I'm not sure, but, ..." and this was still not satisfying to him because I was not sure. So I learned to stop telling him when I was hypothesizing and when I actually knew the answer. The poor man came to think that everything I told him in these exchanges was fact.

My guessing came back to bite me. DH asked me about something once and I gave him the guessed answer like I always did. Then a few weeks later, he was telling me about a conversation he had with someone at work and he used my misinformation. I had found out the correct answer by then and I said something like, "Where did you hear that?" To which he replied, "You told me." "I did?" "Yes." "Well, that's not really true." "What?" "I was guessing because you wanted an answer." "But I told someone that it was true!" I have learned to tell him now when I'm guessing, and he has learned to ask me if it was a guess or not.

How much better things would be if we all decided to pass along information only after knowing the facts. Imagine how much quieter it would be! Then, of course, the talking heads of the world would have a lot less to talk about-but would we be any worse for our punditry discussing FACT rather than opinion disguised as fact?

God bless Pope Benedict XVI!

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