Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Beware of what you “know”

Photo credit: pepo (stock.xchng)

The older I get, the more I know that I don’t know what I think I know.

Take for example these words: There are more black men in prison than in college.

You’ve heard or read these words, or a sentence similar to them. Presidential candidates and rappers and nearly everyone in between has said this.

Howard University professor Ivory A. Toldson, PhD reveals that in fact, there are 600,000 more black men in college than in jail. Furthermore, the “more black men in prison than college” myth not only is not true now, it never has been true.

Why does this myth persist?

It’s easy. It’s shorthand for saying that “racism is still a problem, people.”

It could be that too many black men are in jail for trivial reasons, and we should not only be talking about that, but moving to fix that. Passing on a “fact” that is not a fact, however, is the furthest thing from helpful.

You have also read/heard this: Half of all marriages end in divorce.

Again, what is the reason for this statement? It’s shorthand for “people don’t care about tradition as much as they used to.”

What I care about is: Is it true?

Not exactly. What happened is that in 1981, there were 2.4 million marriages and 1.2 million divorces – in other words, half as many divorces as there were marriages. So, half of all marriages end in divorce, right?

Wrong. It’s not that simple – as if half of the people married that year decided to divorce. The reasons for divorce are so idiosyncratic that it is difficult to predict an accurate divorce rate. People get married with such hope and resolve – but no one knows what will change in the future.

What else do people “know” that they don’t?

How about government workers are lazy? Anyone who has worked in a private office, or who has spent enough time in any service establishment, knows that laziness can be found all over. And so can industriousness. No matter what John and Ken or The Simpsons say, I have never had a real problem with the DMV. When I go, alone or with Two Dogs, to the DMV, I admire the people who do their best in a service-intensive job.

And, say, men don’t ask for directions? Half the people who have ever asked me for directions were men.

What about the toilet seat being up or down is a big deal? Really? If I go into the bathroom and see the toilet seat up, I put it down. When Two Dogs goes into the bathroom and sees the toilet seat down, he lifts it up. That’s the way it goes in most households. It’s not that hard.

Who should you believe…what “they say,” or facts researched and tabulated? Or, for that matter, what you have observed in your own experience?

In other words, science?

Represent, Mr. Spock.

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