Do you believe everything you are told?


IF the Eye were to write a statement that a man died after he accidentally fell into a drain and hit his head on the pavement, it would not be wrong to say that the typical and immediate response from a reader would be to ask the essential questions, “Where?”, “Who?” and “When?.”

They would, without doubt, assume that such an incident did take place, until they are told that, hey, it was just a joke, or a rumour.

Rarely would a reader ask “For real?” or “Did this really happen?”

Humans can generally be classified into two categories. There are those of us who would naturally believe what we are told, before we actually understand what is being told to us.

There are also those who are naturally critical – who have a tendency to question, understand, analyse and evaluate what they are being told, before accepting a particular piece of information as the truth.

The majority of us fall into the first category. We tend to react to the TV, newspapers, Internet postings and even what our loved ones tell us by first believing, before we question or critique the information.

The argument whether humans are natural believers first or natural critiques first, has been taking place for almost 500 years.

French philosopher Descartes argued that believing and understanding are separate processes and that people would normally take in some information by paying attention to it, before deciding what to do with the information – to believe or otherwise.

On the other hand, the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza argued that the very act of understanding information is believing it. We may, he argued, be able to change our minds afterwards, when we come across contrary evidence, but until that time we believe everything.

This would be dangerous in this day and age, especially with the deluge of information we receive through the electronic media, companies out to make that killer sale and politicians trying to reel in votes.

Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, discourages us from taking on Spinoza’s “believe everything, until something happens to prove otherwise” stance. He instead encourages us to do research and not be fooled by the information that is fed to us.

The point here is that we need to be critical thinkers and to search for some form of evidence or data, before we fall for sweet words, empty promises, commercial scams and even political gambits.

Let’s put it this way, if more people were critical and alert, we would not hear of women losing their life savings to men they meet online. We would not hear of people falling for multi-tiered get-rich quick schemes.

If human beings were more critical, they would not have to end up dishing out extra money to claim the lucky draw prize that they thought they ‘won’ while walking through a shopping centre.

Neither would we have people getting suckered into buying or investing in things that they do not need. We would not have gullible ladies and men being led into being drug mules for their smooth-talking foreign boyfriends or girlfriends.

The sharing of false or viral news on social networks such as those posts on Facebook asking us to re-post certain messages or face having to later pay for free social networking is another example of how people tend to believe before analysing the information.

What makes it even more frustrating is that many still do not learn from past experience and from finding out that these were merely rumours. They still get caught up with posting and sharing the next viral message that comes around.

Anyway, for these gullible human beings, here is a piece of advice from Buddha: “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.

Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

So, having reached the end of this piece, are you going to believe what Buddha said (and what the Eye wrote) then?