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Just the Facts, Ma’am


While reading an article on people’s reactions to the corona virus, I came upon two statements that struck me as right on target about emotions. They perfectly describe what happens when we don’t view life objectively and accurately but insist on seeing it only through the lens of our experience. Of course, we can’t help but view life through our experience. What gets in the way of mental health is when people are unable to acknowledge that their view (based on emotions) runs against the facts and is purely subjective and often patently untrue.

David Ropeik, retired Harvard University instructor on risk communication, tells us that, “Emotions are the filters through which we see the facts.” And Paul Slovic, University of Oregon psychology professor, explains that, “‘Hot buttons . . . ramp up our perception of risk, and sometimes make those perceptions different from the evidence-based conclusions.” 

Examples of this process include: trying to convince a client of normal weight that she’s not fat, accepting that flying in an airplane is safer regarding fatalities than driving an automobile, or setting limits with your parents in adulthood when they have no power over you. We’ve all had this kind of experience when trying to convince someone of facts based on evidence and their being reluctant to acknowledge the truth. Moreover, we’ve all reacted this way ourselves at one time or another.

I’m raising this issue because I believe that we do best when we follow facts. Of course, we have strong feelings and intuition may lead us away from reality but give me evidence any day of the week. I’ve been scoffed at by many because I’m science-based, but what would the world be like if we all made decisions by our guts. Would you fly in an airplane built by someone who told you it hadn’t been tested but he had a good feeling about it taking flight and staying aloft. Would you eat food that someone tried to sell you because it looked fine but hadn’t been checked for bacteria, etc.?

The most rational, healthy way to live is to seek and ask for evidence. If you’re getting married, you want proof that your spouse is the best person to pledge your love to. If you’re applying for college, you want to know how many graduates got jobs in your field. If you’re told that certain foods are good for you, you would do well to ask for proof why that is. Most importantly, recognize that emotions have value but that they all come with filters. Recognize your filters, acknowledge how they may skew you away from seeking and embracing evidence, and don’t let emotions override facts and the real deal.