When Accuracy Counts: Talking to Experts with Differing Opinions and Preserving Truth


In my book Working with SMEs: A Guide to Capturing and Organizing Content From Subject Matter Experts,  I tackle the issue of what to do when competing experts tell different stories and, most troubling, when agendas among stakeholders obscure factual information.

The answer is: the when you are writing training for a client, the stakeholder paying the bill gets the last say. It is their company and their money; it isn’t your call to decide what gets captured and preserved as official knowledge within their organization. Of course, some knowledge is an undisputed matter of science or math and you can’t undo the realities of gravity or 1+1. But in any matter open to question, the payer’s perspective wins in a matter open to expert opinion.

Which leads me in a somewhat circuitous way to discuss a very sensitive topic on the minds of many people: Whether a society should manipulate evidence of its history to bend to the will of those in power or if a different standard applies when preserving the knowledge of human history.

Most rational and loving people (and I include all my readers in this group!) want to give everyone a fair shake. We work with and socialize with and have relationships with people of all backgrounds. The beautiful array of people in my universe has much more in common as leaders, coworkers, entrepreneurs, parents, lovers, friends and neighbors than they have differences. Our 24/7 global social network makes sure of that. My Mastermind group originates in Denmark and has members in at least a dozen countries with people of almost every background and, lo and behold, we are much, much more alike than we are different. We honor our uniqueness and the individual skill each of us brings to that party in no small measure because the group’s leader is vigilant about the generosity of spirit of each member.

Let’s face it, though. Human history demonstrates that not everyone in every time has been as accepting of others.

When Passions are Inflamed, Reason Flees

Human history is awash with stories of armed conquest, atrocities and man’s inhumanity to man. The evidence remains intact at the Colosseum in Rome, at the crematoria that stand as testament to the horrors of WWII death camps, and, yes, in the bone-laden killing fields around the world where despots wreaked death on millions of people in the name of some ideology. Those horrible monuments stand as silent screams to those events. The United States has some violent and inhumane history we do not want to repeat. When passions are inflamed, reason flees. We need to be reminded where we’ve been so we can avoid retreading that bloody ground.

As vendors of accuracy (ah, a new meme!), those who are tasked with recording knowledge and information for preservation are called on to record it all. Just the way it happened.  To the best of their ability. Representing all points of view and all versions of events. That way we can reproduce what works and avoid what does not work in the future. We can do more of the right thing and less of the wrong thing. In a recent blog, I discussed Henry Ford’s statement that he fired the experts because they knew all the ways things couldn’t be done. While we want to put new, fresh minds to work on innovation, it is a good idea to keep the old heads around to tell you where the landmines are, too. So it is with preservation of historic fact.

We have important books in our literature, books like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and  1984 by George Orwell where we are warned of the perils of obscuring or rewriting history. People with agendas who burn books are in a position to tell a new, albeit inaccurate and incomplete, story. As we are told, those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Despotic rulers and invading armies destroy the histories and culture of the places they invade so the people cannot retrace either their roots to preserve their strengths or remember their tragedies. The victors write the history books. To have a just, whole and open society, people need to have an accurate knowledge of all that has gone before – the good and the horrific.

By destroying or masking terrible truths, we doom ourselves to repeat them – and to be controlled by people who want to rewrite history for their own ends. Because we have ample evidence of the sordid underbelly of the monsters in history, we know what happens after the books are burned and history is obscured. Without those reminders, we are vulnerable to bad information and bad outcomes.

In writing training for a company, the stakeholder with the checkbook has the last word on content. As for the story of human history, each individual is an equal stakeholder so we need the most complete story we can assemble for a 360 degree view of reality. History tells us and literature warns us to beware of any group that wants to control the historical narrative.

Sunlight is a disinfectant. Let history stand as its own witness.

What do you think? Should all historical artifacts be preserved for accuracy? Or, do you think preservation of history suggests de facto approval of our most unsavory events? Please comment.

By Diliff available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colosseum

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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