Home > The Monday Musings Column > On grains of truth

On grains of truth

Once upon a time I was stood in front of one of my teachers having explained myself for some indiscretion. Considering my defence for a moment she opined that there may have been a grain of truth in my excuses, but punished me anyway. Some years later as a suited and booted manager, far further up the ladder than perhaps my teacher had expected, that expression of a grain of truth came up twice in quick succession.

Both were in a marketing context, the first time when we were putting together some promotional material and all of our efforts had failed to impress the marketing director. We needed a hook he told us, something that those reading it could latch onto. It needs that grain of truth that the customer can identify with and see an answer to a problem that they need solving. We got there in the end; we must have because that brochure generated a decent return in new business.

The other time was when I was running a professional event and we had hired a comedian to do the after dinner slot. Chatting about what we did he asked questions to give him, as he put it, a few nuggets, grains of truth that the audience would instantly identify with. Things that he could weave stories around and get a laugh from. Irt was an intriguing insight into how a funny person plied their craft and, despite him having had no real knowledge of what we did before the event, he delivered a blistering 45 minutes that made him seem one of us. Those grains of truth brought it all into our perspective.

This all came back to me recently when I was video chatting with an American contact. In the course of discussing the current political situation there told me that he understands the conspiracy theorists even if he does not agree with them. There will be an event, a fact that cannot be denied, at the centre, but the how, why and aftermath are open to interpretation and speculation. With the echo chambers that exist on social media people who want to believe in a particular slant on that initial grain of truth will come to an unshakeable belief in that story.

There is a lot of fake news out there, even amongst the genuine media outlets where their bias, either political or to make a good story, rarely offers the full truth, but there is a grain of truth here and there just to hang the overall tale on. If only critical thinking was more prevalent it wouldn’t matter, but too many people take anything at face value, especially if it suits the echo chamber that they like to live in.

I mentioned jokes above and any good joke has that grain of truth, the element of reality that people can relate to at its heart. The same applies to a good cartoon. You have to be able to recognise the characters or the situation in order to see the funny side.

Over my years in a suit there were countless occasions when I presented a report, or proposal, that was slanted in the way that I, or my boss, wanted. There was always a backbone of truth even if we left out aspects that may have detracted from our aims. As I worked my way up the greasy pole of corporate management my own experiences of presenting these sort of things stood me in good stead when challenging those who were presenting to me.

Always be prepared to challenge what you are being told. Form your own opinions based, not on what you are told, but what you can find out, and never be afraid about changing your mind later if you find out something new that changes things. There is no shame in learning.

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