Facts Are Stubborn Things

We live in an age when feelings trump facts. Said in another way: my personal truth trumps reality. John Adams, the second president of the United States, made a bolder claim. Ronald Reagan used to quote him, “Facts are stubborn things.” Adams quote gets more specific, Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Some have suggested that Adams had quoted two French writers, but that is less significant than the reason he made the statement. Before the American Revolution, an incident occurred known as the Boston Massacre when British soldiers sought to put down a riot and some of the rioters were killed. Passions against the British were running high and eventually broke out into the Revolutionary War.

Beyond Emotion and Bias

Before the revolution took place, John Adams took on the task of defending the soldiers despite the fever pitch of emotion against the British. He demonstrated that they had acted appropriately according to the laws at that time, and he produced witnesses to bolster his case. Essentially, he brought the facts of what occurred to bear on the case. He won, or should we say the facts won?

Even today, depending on our own feelings, prejudices, and preferences we often prefer trying people in the court of public opinion. However strong our inclinations to see justice done or our side win, facts still matter, not simply our inclinations, feelings, and passions.

Only Informed Opinions

Good writing demands good thinking, and good thinking demands an examination of facts. Let’s not get sidetracked into thinking that often we can’t get to the facts of certain things. True in some cases, but we often say that out of laziness and uncontrolled passion for a particular point of view. Should we be accused of a crime or criticized for holding a contrary opinion, we hope that clearer heads will at least hear the ideas we bring to court or to an argument. Lazy arguments refuse to even consider something contrary.

As writers and speakers, we must always be in the business of presenting good evidence for our ideas: finding facts that support our assertions. Truth can be known, and facts can be ascertained. The cost of finding either is nothing less than our honesty and our concerted effort to admit the truth wherever we find it, even at the expense of cherished ideas.