Fact Or Opinion
There is a fine line between fact and opinion. Many times, what at first seems to be an objective 'fact' is really just someone's subjective opinion. In this week's Torah portion, the Jewish people in the desert sent a group of scouts on a fact-finding mission to the Land of Israel. When they returned and reported what they found, they distorted the facts for their own vested interests, and made the report sound very negative. This made the people panic unnecessarily, which caused a great tragedy. One lesson here is to learn not to simply take things we hear at face value, but to realize there is always more than one way to look at things, and before we believe something negative, we should consider what might be really motivating the person to say what he is saying.
In our story, a kid learns 'facts' can often mean different things to different people.
"JUST THE FACTS"
One great thing my school does is let you sign up for interesting, optional courses. It was sign-up day and I was rushing to sign up for the cooking course. I figured it was about time I learned how to do more than boil water. On the way, I ran into my friend, Jackie.
Jackie is a year older than me, and she kind of always treats me as a younger sister, always giving me advice that I never really asked for. "Where you off to in such a hurry, Deb?" she asked with a smile.
When I told her about my plans, she rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Boy are you lucky you ran into me!"
"Do yourself a favor, and don't touch that class with a ten foot pole!"
"Why not?" I asked.
"I made the mistake of taking that course last year. I'll tell you the facts and let you decide. First of all, Mrs. Rodgers, the instructor, runs the kitchen like a sergeant, and if you don't follow her recipes down to the letter, she gets really mad. Of course, I made sure to improve a few things when she wasn't looking. Now her strictness would be bad enough if at least the recipes were decent tasting, but everything we had to make tasted terrible. I ended up throwing most of the stuff I made into the garbage. Trust me," she laughed, "take anything but that awful cooking class!"
Well that put a serious damper on my plans. The facts seemed to speak for themselves, and it looked like I'd have to make another choice. I headed over to the sign-up sheets posted outside the office, and looked over all the choices. Funny, the cooking-class list seemed pretty full. I felt bad for all those kids who hadn't gotten the 'inside facts' like I had.
I stood dumbfounded in front of the board - I really didn't know what course to choose now - when I noticed my friend, Lara, and her older, sister, Liz, come over to sign up. "You're lucky! There are still a couple of spots open for Mrs. Rodger's cooking class ... it usually fills up right away!" Liz said excitedly as Lara quickly signed her name on the list.
"Wait a minute, Lara," I said. "Maybe you should think twice about that class..."
"What's there to think about?" her big sister cut in. "It's just about the best class in the whole school. I took it myself last year."
Now I was really confused. "But I heard the teacher was very strict about following the recipes?"
"Sure, but with good reason," countered Liz. "Mrs. Rodgers used to be a professional chef at one of the most famous kosher restaurants in the country. At the beginning of the semester she explained that her recipes weren't just recipes, but carefully prepared lesson plans in how to cook. She asked us to follow them precisely so we would learn all the techniques we need to know when we do our own cooking in the future. Of course, some kids in the class didn't listen. They thought they knew better and just threw things together in whatever way they wanted, and, as you can imagine, their stuff usually flopped. Debby, if I were you, I'd sign up right away too. You won't regret it!"
Well, this certainly put things in a new light. What Liz said made sense, especially when I realized that it was just like Jackie's personality to want to do everything her own way, and get really mad at anyone who wouldn't let her. It seemed that the 'facts' she told me was really her opinion. She was certainly entitled to her own opinion, but that didn't mean I had to agree with it.
I signed up for the cooking class - the last spot on the list. And you know what? It turned out to be great class.
Q. How did Debby feel about the cooking class after she first spoke with Jackie?
A. She felt that Jackie had given her facts that made her not want to take it.
Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She found out that what Jackie called facts were really just based on her opinions, and not really the truth.
Q. Why do you think Jackie distorted the facts? Was it on purpose?
A. Often a person's experiences and emotions so much affect they look at things that they might view something as an objective fact when it is no more than an opinion, or outright distortion. Occasionally people do intentionally 'bend the facts' to suit some purpose, such as 'getting even', etc., but more often - and probably in this case - they really believe what they are saying, even when it isn't true.
Q. How can a person learn to tell when someone is telling him a fact, and when he is giving him his opinion?
A. It isn't always easy. One should generally have the attitude of taking things with a healthy grain of salt, neither cynically rejecting what we hear, nor accepting it at face value. Rather we should take most things we hear, depending on the reliability of who's saying it as 'possibly true,' and then think about it and investigate when practical, until we have enough information to reasonably decide.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Are there things that are objectively true, or is everything subjective?
A. There is an objective truth, but we need the help of other people to access it since our own perceptions are limited and quite often biased. Only the Torah allows us to tap into absolute truth. It is an entirely accurate picture of reality, given to us by an entirely unlimited and unbiased being - God.
Q. Can a person rely on that which is being presented as fact by the news media, etc. as really so?
A. Unfortunately not. Although the media's large-budget flash and authoritative sounding voices tend to give the impression that it is presenting the truth, in fact the media is simply comprised of human beings, and not always the most ethically scrupulous, who are interested in influencing your opinion. Even the best and most sincere reporters, who value being objective, are only telling you things as they subjectively perceive them.