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I have always been ‘intelligent’ in the sense I could pass examinations, but I don’t think I became really intelligent until I started studying the works of Stephen Covey. He didn’t make me any cleverer in IQ terms, but he did open my eyes to a new mental approach to things. He showed me how people – you, me and an awful lot of politicians and celebrities – are psychologically flawed, and in recognising those flaws I realised just how much what we are told is ideologically biased. Not necessarily on a political ideology – just a set of ideas about which the speaker feels certain, even though they have no empirical, objective evidence for the firmness of that certainty. It is, to use a Markleism, a ‘lived truth’ and is therefore subjective.

I hear a ‘fact’ now, and I realise that it is rarely factual. It is routinely an opinion. It is an opinion honestly held in the sense that the person stating it (usually) genuinely believes it, but it is rarely an absolute, objective truth. I now question everything I hear, because I know about Values. They believe what they are saying because they want it to be true. And anything which challenges that ‘truth’ is not only wrong, it is an absolute lie!

Attaching emotion to an argument colours it, so when I hear emotion – anger, passion, hate, fear – then I also hear bias. And just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I am right, either. Objectivity requires acceptance that you may also be biased.

Covey taught me many things, but one of them was to see things not through ‘my eyes’ but through ‘principles’. The main principle of debate and learning being – ‘have we heard ALL the facts?’ So I accept nothing, believe no-one and check everything.

For example, when I hear someone on one side of the political divide start insulting the other,  I remember Desmond Tutu’s advice that when in debate, instead of raising your voice, raise the quality of your argument. Try explanation and a quiet, considered voice – and I’ll hear you.

When I hear ‘There is no evidence to show …….. (whatever the speaker does not wish to believe)’, I ask, “Have you even looked?”

When I hear ‘something terrible IS going to happen’ (e.g. Brexit), I recall Hyrum W. Smith (author of What Matters Most) saying ‘ Results take time to measure’ and recognise none of us can tell the future. Try ‘might’ happen – and I’ll listen.

When I hear ‘you MUST do it this way’, I look at the background material and frequently find that ‘this way’ is not the ‘only way’. Indeed, it is occasionally the wrong way. Question what you are told – even if the answer remains the same, you will understand it to a far more informed degree.

When I hear talented actors, who I’ve watched grow up from their first childhood films to mature individuals, telling me their opinions about politics I ask, “When exactly did you do your—–ology degree?” They have a right to an opinion – but all too often they have no ‘authority’ behind it. (And as I get the impression that ‘creatives’ are almost consistently left-wing, I also ask how that stands up, statistically?).

And when I hear an academic’s opinion that is based on their expertise, I remember that they may have found the evidence they sought, but was it objectively tested? And you can get a degree with a 40% pass mark, by the way. Having letters after your name may just be confirmation of a bias!

In essence, what I am promoting, here, is to live a life of healthy cynicism, where you question what you hear – even your own experiences. The last thing this world needs is to move from objective reality to ‘lived truths’.

Listen, but assess. Could they be wrong – because if they are and you act on that, you’re wrong too.