Have you ever seen a story in your Facebook feed that has made you pause and say, “Wait, what?” You know, like the story that Barack Obama waited 48 hours before he responded to Hurricane Katrina? Maybe you saw this and thought to yourself, “But Obama wasn’t even the president during Hurricane Katrina?”
We are now in a time where “fake news” and “alternative facts” have become the norm, people have begun to perpetuate stories that have absolutely no truth, simply because they see them shared widely across social media. A friend shared it so it must be true, right?
We have reached a stage in society when people think they know everything simply because they read about something in a random Facebook article.
When anyone with an opinion and PhotoShop can create internet content, people now have a false sense of security when it comes to what passes as facts and knowledge. And in this day of keyboard warriors, the only way we can fight for the truth is to do our own digging.
The only way to combat ignorance in others, is to confront our own.
In a story for NPR, Adam Frank, astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, wrote about the current shift away from believing those with expertise on a subject, and said we must rely on science and research to combat ignorance.
Admitting that we don’t know everything is not a sign of ignorance; it’s a sign of self-awareness. It is impossible to be an authority on every single subject, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be knowledgeable about a variety of subjects. The key is quality, not quantity.
It’s not just people on the Internet who spread their ignorance without facts either. Our current White House administration — a group of people who claim to be “improving” the country while completely ignoring the advice of those who are well-educated and experienced on the topic — are some of the biggest perpetrators. When the President tweets about climate change, and how it must be a myth because it’s cold? That is a blatant rejection of science, and when it’s at a level this high, it’s idiotic and downright dangerous.
In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 29, 2017
He has convinced millions of people to agree with him, because he has presented himself as an authority on the topic, even though it is full of lies. Scientific facts prove him wrong. It’s not “his opinion;” it’s just false information and lies.
But the thing is, it doesn’t take much effort to go out and find the truth. Climate change isn’t just about “global warming,” it’s about drastic shifts in the weather. I’m not as well-versed on the topic as I could be, but I would never deny the truth — facts shared by countless experts –just because the President sent out a tweet that says if it’s cold, global warming isn’t a thing.
It’s the same with personal experience. Just because you gave your baby solids at four months doesn’t mean that you understand the gut health of every infant in the world. We have to take the blinders off — the ones that tell us we know everything there is to know simply because we tried something and it worked out for us. Starting an argument in the comment section of an article (that you may not have even read in its entirety) because you disagree with it, is only showing your ignorance.
Side note: reading an article in its entirety is a first step towards learning and insight. Isn’t that why we read articles on the Internet anyway? To find something we may know and look at it in a new way or expand on what we already know? We have to go beyond the headline, folks.
Even the most well-versed person doesn’t know everything, but admitting that goes a long way. That is confronting our own ignorance, so that we can move a conversation forward, instead of keeping it steeped in assumption. In fact, the ones unable to admit their own lack of knowledge are often the most ignorant, not the folks who can comfortably say, I don’t know.
Frank suggests that “instead of showing them just what we know, we can also ask: ‘What don’t you know?’” For some, turning the conversation back to them will either cause them to double-down (which we see far too often) or it may actually force them to stop and pause and realize that maybe they didn’t know as much on a subject as they thought.
As a black woman, there are a lot of facets to white supremacy and racism that I don’t know about. But if I’m called out about it, I know that getting defensive and doubling down isn’t going to help me. I simply say, “You’re right, I don’t know enough about this,” and I educate myself.
We can’t be authorities on every single thing there is to know in the world — whether it’s the sleep habits of toddlers or the capital gains tax. But if you know what you don’t know, you might be able to stop yourself from sounding like a real idiot.
And let’s face it, faking your way through a conversation is rarely the best way to get your point across. There will be someone who will see through your bullshit, and then you’re gonna look worse for lying than you would have if you simply said “I don’t know” or even — gasp — “I was wrong”.
Bottom line: Admitting your lack of knowledge isn’t a sign of weakness or stupidity, but doubling down on unsubstantiated claims and starting fights with strangers on the Internet to support your conspiracy theories (like the Obama and Hurricane Katrina fallacy) sure is.