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October 1, 2007

Accuracy, Part Vb

Oops! Sorry, but it's been a nightmare for the last four months. I've got the new blog, the more complete version of the last one.

The four steps to accuracy:

  1. Admit you may be wrong
  2. See what is not fully explained, incomplete, or doesn't make sense
  3. Research the material
  4. Be crystal clear

From my last blog:

There is a difference between understanding and thinking you understand.

Understanding is not knowledge, though knowledge is a part of understanding. In fact, understanding is one of three things that make up understanding.

The first:

Knowledge is factual information. It comes directly from primary information, not simply something you're told.

This means that it is something indisputable. We know what is written in the Constitution because we have the original copy that was signed by the Founding Fathers. Interpretation is debated, and often that debate is never settled. That debate is caused by one of two things:

Lack of information is a major cause of debates. When people don't know a key element of the factual material, there's a tendency to "fill in the blanks" in a way that favors each individual interpreter. This often means different interpretations, and inevitably means debate as each interpreter tries to convince the other of something less favorable to them.

Ignorance of information is when someone chooses to act as if they are unaware of the information or how important it is. This is far more common than most people realize and usually follows someone being told information they were previously not aware of. It is difficult to site examples of this without hurrying or upsetting someone.

Primary information cannot be argued. It is a photograph of the event happening, a videorecording, a historical document, or anything that shows unquestionably whether or not something is true. It is not a diary or journal, as they can be biased; other sources can also be biased, though they can present one side of the story.

Listening to someone restate what they have been told is not primary information. The speaker could have easily been lied to or be filling in information with what they have assumed. A great example of secondary information is the current debate in the U.S. over the existence of Separation of Church and State. Some say it was made up by lawyers and judges; others say Jefferson called it by that term first in a letter he wrote in 1802.

In this case, they both have part of the information, and the rest is filled in: Jefferson graduated with a law degree from William and Mary, attaining the bar in 1767 and leaving in 1774 when he decided law could be used as a tool for social reform. He included Freedom of Religion in the First Amendment for the purpose of allowing people of different religions to understand each other, as he hoped for in a number of his writings. I do not know if the letter was real.

Since I wrote this four months ago, I have done some research on the subject and discovered that American lawyers and judges did not "invent" the concept, as some would have you believe. It goes back to the ancient Greek philosophers. This an example of people not having all the facts, or ignoring them.

The second:

Experience is anything in your personal history related to the knowledge. You can't teach experience; you just have to deal with it and use it whenever the need arises.

The key to understanding experience is that each person's experiences are different. When two people have different experiences with the same thing, they have different opinions of it.

  • Someone visits Sea World and gets sprayed by Shamu. That person loves sea life and enjoys the fact that sea life just played with her. She tells people, "It was great!"
  • Another person hates getting wet, but has the same experience. That person says, "It was horrible!"

Two people have the exact same experience, but different opinions. Here is another, better example:

  • A computer programmer is listening to an audio tape from his employer giving instructions on what to do. The file name he is to use is stated as "a text file named read man" and to put it in the main directory. Not knowing that his employer's client is named Reed Mann, he names the file "read_man.txt" and puts it in the main directory for a project in production.
The third:

Comprehension is how you interpret knowledge and experience. I've tried explaining it to people, but it's just too difficult because people pre-judge or look for proof that they're right.

The reason for this is simple: In all the years we spend in school learning comprehension, we're never given a good idea of what it is. Why? Because we haven't learned comprehension! That's right, they expect us to understand something we haven't been taught to understand yet. The result is that we don't understand understanding.

There is an element that I missed four months ago, but is critical to this discussion. Listening is paying attention and accepting that the other person sees things differently than you. There are seven types of listening, but only two are truly important to this discussion.

  • Polite listening is when someone simply waits their turn to talk. They pay no attention to what the other person is saying because they know what they will say before the other person even begins speaking. They often interrupt the instant their beliefs are threatened. This results from ignorance.
  • Active listening is when someone pays attention, knowing they could hear something that could tell them something they did not know before. Ignorance is not an issue.
When two people get together, one of three things happen:

  • Both are polite listeners. When this happens, there can only be an argument. Both sides are trying to make the other accept what they are saying and will not accept the other's viewpoint.
  • One is a polite lister and the other is an active listener. In many cases, the active listener will be convinced of what the other says. In other cases, they will realize something is wrong and politely end the conversation. In all cases, the polite listener wins out.
  • Both are active listeners. This is the best combination. Both will learn things, and both will gain a better understanding of the discussion. On rare occassions, there will be a diffence in what they believe to be the facts, and resolution may not be possible without troubling themselves.
If you have been paying attention (gotcha!), then you will realize what the difference in understanding and thinking you understand is. Just to make you think, read this blog two or three more times to make sure you really do understand.

You discover the facts by doing research, such as I did with the Separation of Church and State issue, above. More on research in Part VI.

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