I believe in responsibility. I’m not just referring to the girl cleaning the dishes after dinner, but rather the idea that the blame or credit for your actions and words falls squarely on you. Specifically, I believe that because I have the responsibility for what I say, I need to think. Thinking is the often overlooked step between hearing something and repeating it.
I don’t mean that no one is reliable. It would be impossible to make decisions without any reliance on outside sources. But when it comes to the information I hear, I would rather err on the side of caution. There is a term coined by Stephen Colbert, “truthiness,” that means something that feels like it should be true, but isn’t. Although Colbert uses it facetiously, the reality is that truthiness is all too prevalent in our society.
One recent example of widespread truthiness was the so-called “Bradley effect.” In the months leading up to the election this year, there were thousands of experts and campaign spokesmen on TV going on about their ideas and predictions. In particular, even when Obama was up by double digits in some polls they warned not to believe it because of this Bradley effect. Basically, white voters would tell pollsters they were voting for Obama to hide their racism and then vote for McCain.
My first problem with this was that the only incident of this effect ‘occurring’ happened over twenty five years ago to Tom Bradley a black candidate for governor of California, and the country has clearly made progress in racial relations. The second was that Bradley’s campaign manager has since all but discredited the Bradley effect, saying that their internal polls did not, in fact, indicate any hidden racism, and that the race became much closer after the public polling stopped, a sentiment echoed by his opponent. Third, there was zero confirmation of this effect in this year’s election. The pundits, who were first eager to break the sensational story, but then too complacent to investigate whether it was as factual as everyone believed, mentioned none of this.
The truthiness of it, the fact that it seemed likely, bred complacency. But if one wants to be a responsible member of society, they can’t be complacent. If they want to find out the truth, they have to always be questioning, arguing, and most of all, thinking.
I consider this search for truth not a tedious task but a vital one, because questioning what I hear and thinking about what I say is the only way I can consider myself a responsible thinking being. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.