Fact to Fiction:
My family has never set strong boundaries between fact and fiction. We aren't so much outright liars as we are "truth-stretchers." Every story is based in fact. Starts out as truth. Begins with observation. But nothing ever stays that way very long.
If we see something twice, it soon becomes three times. Then four. Then a half-dozen, or more. Why talk about five deer when seven is so much better? How big was that fish? Ten inches? A foot? More, maybe? Why not?
Indeed: Why not? That's the question, isn’t it? Why the hell not?
My dad was one of the best story-tellers you'd ever want to know. To this day, I still don't know if what he told me was the truth. All of his tales seemed to start with a solid reality. Then, somehow, he'd stray from the path—I think. That was part of the joy, not knowing. All I know is when he was done I was never quite sure if he was pulling my leg. For sure there was no way he was ever going to tell me, one way, or the other. If I asked him directly he'd sparkle his sky blue eyes and say with a sigh, "don't you believe your old dad?"
My mom always told what she thought was the truth, but wasn't. See, Mom had an extremely strong filter through which she experienced the world. It may well be that she reported it as accurately as she could. Trouble was, oftentimes it had nothing to do with the way things really were. I cringe when people treat what she told them as fact because I know for a fact that many, if not most of her memories were inaccurate.
It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood that I inherited that same sort of filter from her. My skewed view became obvious when I started into serious scientific research and tried to use measures and statistics to bolster what I thought I was seeing. I was confused when the numbers I calculated refused to agree with me. Convincing myself that the problem was due to my faulty observations was one of the toughest lessons I ever learned. It's something I struggle with every, single day. Yet, in the end, knowing I see a badly warped version of reality has made me a better researcher and more understanding—if disbelieving—of the people around me.
Research in history helps illuminate the common filters used by everyone; political, economic, racial. What happens when two people tell you what they remember about the same incident? Sometimes the memories mesh. More often they are different. Sometimes very different.
Should we discard the stories we hear from others and believe only what we experience for ourselves? Some people do just that and I pity them because their own filters may change the world in ways they cannot begin to comprehend. Better, I think, to give a listen to all of the stories around us as long as we're sure to consider the source.
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