There are facts and there are opinions (which may or may not be factual). Facts are declarative statements of the way things are or have been. Facts describe reality as it is known to have happened; they are reality within which we live. And they are unforgiving: you ignore the warning light on your dash and you spend $4,000 to rebuild your engine. A fact is often known through empirical1 testing. For example, I know it is not smart to strike one’s thumb with a hammer (no need for further testing). We perform tests and measure reality to determine facts. And once measured, honest brokers accept facts as true. Opinions on the other hand, are views or judgments formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. Opinions are generally resistant to change despite contradictory factual information.
The laws of logic and the norms guiding discussion among intellectually honest and reasonable persons means that we live a fact-based reality. We rely upon facts to structure our lives and some can be offended when they perceive another disregarding the facts.
For example, in the middle of a drought my neighbor waters her lawn. I approach and chide her, “don’t you know there’s a water shortage?” She responds looks me in the face and says, “there is no drought! It’s just a fiction pushed by the water districts to make more money.”
Or, maybe she responds, “So what? I’m not going to let anyone tell me to let my plants die.”
The first response is based on “alternative facts.” The latter, despite being self-serving and obnoxious, has the virtue of being intellectually honest in that it accepts the factual premise that water is in short supply.
It’s important to know when people approach life using “alternative facts”. The term, alternative facts, sounds much like “truthful hyperbole,” a term found in the book The Art of the Deal.2 The author uses this term to describe what he sees as “an innocent form of exaggeration—and… a very effective form of promotion.”
There will always be outliers who dispute facts, or are disagreeable, or are obstinate (close-minded), or not keen to empirically testing reality (for lack of a proper scale, or for lack of the knowledge in its use). There will also be those who intentionally manufacture “facts” to promote their interests.
When working with someone who operates with “truthful hyperbole” or “alternative facts” it is important not to judge them or consider them malicious. To work effectively in that environment one needs to be aware of this and simply ask clarifying questions so as to not be deceived or taken down the wrong road.
1 Verifiable through observation or experience as opposed to theory, or conjecture, or faith.
2 The Art of the Deal (New York: Random House, 1983)