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I yearn for simpler times when there were things most people believed to be true, common knowledge, even when they were not. George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and had wooden teeth. The solar system had nine planets. White bread and milk were good for you. The nuclear family had a mother, father, 2.5 children, and a dog. The Encyclopedia Britannica contained all the knowledge you needed to know and if you didn’t need that much, there was The World Book Encyclopedia. Sunday night was the best TV with The Wonderful World of Disney and Ed Sullivan. Superman was invincible (mostly). Computers would improve productivity. And so on…

Hold on a Moment —

Before you go all crazy hating me like I’m just some old white uneducated male, which is true except for the uneducated part – I have an MBA, let me say that I’m trying to make a point, so hang in there for a bit. The U.S. Declaration of Independence says,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The key word in this sentence for me is “truths.” How do we know what is a truth? I’m not a particularly religious person so I never saw this as a truth, but for many people, the Bible was (and is) the word of God and the history of the creation of our universe. For some, a truth might be that you put two spaces after a period. When I was younger I learned that scoring a 300 in ten pin bowling was a perfect game, and amazingly, that is still true!

What is the Truth About Truths?

My premise is that sets of universally-held truths, a common knowledge if you will, have been important constructs in the development of society over the ages. The beliefs have not always been a positive force — the world was not flat, witches did not float, Jews don’t have horns, but they have often provided a basis for further learning. Yes, I know that apparently not all of us are capable of learning new things, but I’m trying to stay positive and resist the dark turn this article could take.

Name a universally-held belief! Go ahead, name one thing that everyone in the world will agree on, nah – scratch that, everyone in the U.S. will agree on. Everyone in your town? Everyone in your household? Not so easy, right? The only common knowledge we have is that we have very little, if anything anymore, in the way of common knowledge.

But We Have Google!

What? Have you tried looking something up on Google? When I tried to retrieve the exact quote from the Declaration of Independence, I had to be careful to use a trusted website. You can find countless sources of information now thanks to the internet and, in my opinion, with the death of Walter Cronkite, there is no single trusted voice or source of information.

In 1970, I read Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. This book, which if you have not read it, you should, popularized the term “information overload” coined by Bertram Gross, the Professor of Political Science at Hunter College, in his 1964 work – The Managing of Organizations. While this term was originally meant to explain that organizational leaders would be overwhelmed by information at their fingertips, thus negatively impacting their ability to make decisions, the term easily applies now to the broader population. With all the uncertainty about what is truth, what is an “alternative fact”, and what is fake news, how can any of us make correct decisions? Which finally brings us to why I’m writing this article in a blog about caregiving… simply, our role as caregivers is seriously complicated by the challenges of trying to determine the truth.

Who Can You trust?

Pre-internet, if you were buying a product, you might rely on the salesperson, or a friend’s recommendation or an organization like Consumer Reports to help with your decision. Now you have access to an endless variety of “reviewers”, tons of customer and Facebook friend feedback, online demonstrations, YouTube videos, plus all of the original sources — yes, Consumer Reports exists, so how do you make a decision? And this phenomenon is not limited to consumer products… it applies to politics, medicine, history, relationships, finances, technology, the universe and basically everything there is to think about. Even science, the stalwart of “facts” is regularly questioned by scientists and laypeople.

In the 1980s, the slogan “an educated consumer is our best customer” stood out when Sy Syms, CEO of the Syms Corporation, used it in television advertising to support his clothing business. Then, as the healthcare landscape changed, patients needed to become educated as well. Now, I feel pressure to be educated before I make any decision, especially when it comes to caring for my wife.

A Panel of Trusted Advisors

I don’t need to tell you that I don’t have a definitive answer to this dilemma. There clearly is no single source of truth for all people, so all you can do is learn to trust in yourself. Let’s take another lesson from the business world where this story originated… figure out who you trust and surround yourself with these advisors. This is no easy feat but there are precedents that we can continue such as relying on your physician or financial advisor or auto mechanic or clergy. The difference is now you need to do some work upfront to find the “right” resource and you must be an active participant maintaining a level of scrutiny and oversight on your advisor’s activities. Use the 80-20 rule and stay intimately involved in 20% of decisions and somewhat involved in the remaining 80 percent. Your percentages may vary based on your personal knowledge, the decision area, the reliability of your advisors, and your willingness to accept risk. For example, I rely more heavily on my financial advisor as I’m a finance blockhead than I do my physician where I find it easier to peruse other trusted sources of information.

Don’t expect to become an expert in everything and certainly limit your reliance on common knowledge. I suggest that you take an active role in what goes on in your life and who you get your information from, and importantly learn to ask questions, express skepticism, disagree, defend your position, and call out unreliable sources. I hope to be a trusted advisor with this blog by virtue of my attempts to verify what I can and to admit what I don’t know. That said, don’t take my word for anything — do your homework! The challenge is finding a balance point where you don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. My journey is a work in progress. How is yours going?

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