The Facts Just Ahead
The Facts Just Ahead

Fact: Where I live, at the moment I’m writing this story, the sun hasn’t appeared yet.

Story: I occasionally enjoy getting up early when I know I’ll be free from the distractions that come from other people in my house being awake.

What is fact?

  • A piece of information presented as having objective reality;
  • The quality of being actual

In the purest sense, a fact is something that cannot be argued.

Even that is somewhat subjective. For example, stating that she is tall or he is overweight are relative statements. She is tall. He is overweight. Compared with whom?

A fact can generally be communicated in less than a single breath (though that is clearly not a fact). To state a real fact, you have to remove all the subjectivity.

  • Fact: She has eyes.
  • Fact: He has hair.

Based on the definition of fact having “objective reality”, you might be able to argue that certain attributes can be included in those simple examples while still maintaining fact. She has blue eyes may still be fact — though you can definitely argue that shades of blue make it somewhat subjective. Are her eyes clear blue? Sky blue? Really more of a bluish-green?

As humans, it may be difficult — if not impossible — for us to simply communicate facts only.

Story: Communicating with just facts is not very interesting.

Imagine trying to communicate with someone using only facts. Better yet, give it a try. Pick a familiar topic and try for just two minutes to communicate only the facts about that subject.

Why are facts important?

Story: You may judge that a silly question.

“To fight that good fight, we must acknowledge that ‘truth’ is an elusive concept requiring the analysis and application of factual information, and advocate for educational (and testing) approaches that will yield the educated citizenry.” — Paul Marantz¹

Facts establish a foundation upon which we build knowledge and understanding. Knowledge is, in part, a story. There was a time in human history when two plus two did not equal four because no one knew how to think in those terms. And, it was much later when humans decided that eleven plus eleven might only equal twenty-two when talking about base 10 arithmetic.

I always hope that I’ll get arguments with facts involved. — Robert Kiyosaki²

Story: I believe Mr. Kiyosaki really means that he wants to argue with stories supported by the numbers; not unsubstantiated opinions. That’s why he says he’s okay getting in arguments “with facts involved”.

Why are stories important?

“Our explanations usually begin with an emotion, and we create a narrative to give meaning to the event. This phenomenon sets a course of action, which then leads to our results, whether they are desirable or undesirable.”³

  1. Stories give meaning to an event.
  2. Stories open possibilities.
  3. Stories are essential for proper growth and development.

Even though facts are critical for establishing a baseline, they are almost never enough. Humans require a narrative to give meaning to an event. Stories are the way we make sense of the world around us. They give our brains a framework in which to interpret things.

Because of that, two people having the same experience can get very different things from the experience.

Suppose Beth and Carly are at an amusement park together. Beth loves roller coasters. Carly is afraid of them. Because of Beth’s persistence, Carly is convinced to go on a smaller roller coaster.

They go.

Beth loves roller coasters. Not surprisingly, she has a good experience. Carly, on the other hand, isn’t prepared for the jostling associated with ride, and comes away with a reinforced notion that roller coasters are not fun.

Same basic experience; totally different stories.

In many parts of the world, the story most children grow up hearing is that their lives will be better if they get as much education as possible. In perhaps fewer places (though still many) that story is told with the word formal inserted before education. This means schooling through primary and secondary schools and on to university.

Many children who begin this process are able to successfully navigate “the system”. They effectively live the story. Successful completion of their formal education leads to numerous possibilities that might not otherwise be open to them.

Of course, formalized — and often costly — education isn’t the only way. Some of the greatest minds of our era struggled with formal education. The story they needed to live was a different one.

How society tries to pigeonhole children is a topic for another day.

Related to the previous point, from the time children are infants, they hear stories. Whether these stories come in the form of picture books and the narrative a parent tells or by plugging into a tablet to watch their favorite streaming service, these stories are essential for developing language skills and building the framework to make sense of the world that was discussed earlier.

As we grow, the stories we hear and tell are the primary vehicle through which we connect with others. Our stories help us communicate to others who we are. In turn, they are how we know others.

Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner believes we are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it has been wrapped in a story. Facts don’t generally create feelings, but our feelings are what drive action. We need stories to help us determine how we feel about life, ourselves, and others.

Otherwise, we’d just be robots.

Story: Now I’ve finished writing my story and the sun is up so I guess that wasn’t a fact after all!

¹Paul Marantz, “Just How Important Are Facts?”, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Feb. 10, 2017, http://blogs.einstein.yu.edu/just-how-important-are-facts/

²Robert Kiyosaki, “The Importance of Facts Versus Opinions”, Rich Dad blog, October 22, 2013, https://www.richdad.com/facts-versus-opinions

³ Cecelia Calderón, “Facts vs. Reaction: Transforming the Stories We Tell Ourselves”, July 30, 2018, https://stopatnothing.com/fact-vs-fiction/

Married to my best friend. Father to five exuberant children. Fledgling entrepreneur. Writer. Software developer. Inventory management expert.

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