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by:  Naomi Fein
October 15, 2018

How I Learned The Facts of Life: A Primer for Consenting Adults


I’m provoked.

That is, I’ve been provoked.

You know how you’ve found yourself sort of irritated by one particular thing you’ve encountered in life many times, but didn’t worry too much about it until...

Something big happened, something that caused all of these irritations to slam into each other in your mind, as if the planets in the solar system all pulled together in one clump. And you suddenly realized, “Hey, this is a big deal!”

For me, the accumulated irritations were really one big concern, provoked by some of the unfortunate aspects of the 2016 election – primarily how people have become dyspeptic over facts, truth, news, bias in journalism, and what they think journalism should or shouldn’t be doing.

It was only shortly before the 2016 election when I became aware of the fake news turmoil. You might think I was naive to grasp this so late. Not at all. I didn’t notice it because I was not a victim of it, thanks to a brilliant high school teacher who provided me with the most significant lesson I ever got out of formal schooling: how to read newspapers.

Yet, as many of us have come to realize, too many people seem to get their “news” from TV, or from the internet. There is a massive, angry confusion about truth, lies, opinions, valid information.

But facts – which I, for one, require before I form opinions about complex subjects, and certainly before I vote – can’t be gathered from alternative sources.

We can only get reliable facts from newspapers. World class newspapers.

I’m going to share the technique I learned with you. It’s easy. Once you see how it’s done, you won’t be able to ignore the method when you read the news.

I’ll also be telling you incidents from my own life that elaborate upon where and how we get facts, opinions, truths and lies.

I’ll cough up a painful childhood story about how I was shamed by yammering when I didn’t know what I was talking about.

That one incident is the foundation of why I live, think and write the way I do – checking every piece of information, looking up words I’m sure I know in the dictionary, confessing when I’m too lazy to look something up, and when I know I’m being knee-jerk in an opinion. And when I’ve been wrong.

Facts are the formative material in developing profound, individual truth. We all want that, right? Nah? OK, maybe not anything so deep as that. But we do all want to be able to distinguish between a fact and an opinion, what is real and what is fake, truth from lie.

I’m not going to criticize your opinion. And I’m not going to tell you what to think.

I am simply going to pass on the lessons I learned about how to build a solid, verifiable factual foundation on which you can think, and form and express opinions, without ever fearing someone will shame you for being a fool.

Hey, if I’m going to confess my own shame, let’s use it, all of us.

How I Learned the Facts of Life is short, a pamphlet really, just long enough to apply the lessons to the bombardment of information, dubious as well as credible, to which we are all subject. Trolls, kompromat, lies, smears. Deliberate fake-news “entrepreneurs.” Print, TV and internet ads.

And Twitter, where I got into a bout of fisticuffs with some people who were angry about my tweet in support of an article in the New York Times. “The Times??” someone sneered. “The Times that...” mentioning quite accurately how the Times got a story wrong. Several people tweeted they no longer trusted or read the Times.

I asked one, “So where do you get your facts?” “From experts,” he said.

Yeah, well. That is a person who desperately needs How I Learned the Facts of Life.

And this I do know because I am an expert.

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