Communication Caveat—Finger Pointing

It is sometimes said that, “The best defense is a good offense.” Turning this around, what does it mean when a person goes on the offense in his communications by pointing the finger at others? He may be trying to divert attention from his own misbehavior or hidden agenda.

Hence, another common adage, “It takes one to know one.” The person who is quick to spout accusations such as “He’s lying,” “She’s biased,” or “They’re running scared,” may well be untruthful, prejudiced, or frightened himself.

As with so many human behaviors, such attempts to divert attention from one’s own faults can arise, not from conscious thought or planning, but rather, as knee-jerk or instinctive reactions. Another factor that drives this type of accusation is that everyone naturally assumes that others think and behave more or less the way they do. Their own behavior (lying, prejudice or running scared) seems normal and natural. If someone often lies his way out of trouble, then when someone else in trouble offers an explanation or excuse, she must be lying.

However, few people always tell the absolute truth. In fact, the inability to lie or “spin” the truth is one of the symptoms of autism. Conversely, even the most pathological liar occasionally makes a true statement.

So how do we know when to believe accusations or judgments that we hear? And how do we know when to beware of the person who makes the accusations?

Here are some signals that can indicate that we should exercise caution:

  • The person in question is quick off the mark. He hears something he doesn’t like and immediately labels it a lie, rather than asking questions and trying to learn enough facts to make an intelligent judgment.
  • The person often makes the same kind of accusation. He often accuses others of lying, or he seems to think almost everyone is biased, except him.
  • He has previously made similar statements that later proved untrue.

Now these signals can be amber caution lights, not necessarily red lights. Suppose Ducky Lucky tells Turkey Lurky, “Henny Penny said the sky is falling.” Turkey Lurky replies, “Henny Penny is always jumping to conclusions and exaggerating things. The sky is not falling.” The amber light is that Turkey Lurky quickly jumped to this conclusion about Henny Penny.

In this case, I would advise Ducky Lucky to seek further information. For example, Ducky Lucky should go back to Henny Penny and ask her why she concluded the sky is falling. Ducky Lucky can also ask Goosy Loosey whether she has noticed any indications that the sky is falling.

Should Ducky Lucky trust what Turkey Lurky tells her in the future? The answer lies, not in whether or not the sky is actually falling, but rather, in how Turkey Lurky came to that conclusion. Does Turkey Lurky often accuse others of exaggerating, jumping to conclusions, or saying things that aren’t true?

Actually, Turkey Lurky’s very behavior on the present occasion provides a partial answer. Turkey Lurky accused Henny Penny of the very thing he himself was doing, jumping to conclusions. Ducky Lucky should be on the lookout for instances of Turkey Lurky jumping to conclusions in the future. The more such instances she observes, the less she should take Turkey Lurky at his word, and the more she should fact check his statements in the future.

Enter Foxy Loxy. He is not Ducky Lucky’s fellow barnyard resident. Rather, Foxy Loxy is an outside professional. It is his job to influence birds to do things that are not in their best interests. Luring birds away from the safety of the barnyard is how he puts meat on his table. So he educates himself in the art of luring, gets lots of practice, and is very good at it.

For example, Foxy will not simply shout, “The sky is falling. Run! Run!” He will select facts to support his statement that the sky is falling. “Henny Penny has a lump on her head and is tottering around in a dazed state. A piece of the sky must’ve hit her on the head.”

Foxy manufactures additional facts. He gathers the poultry under a pecan tree in autumn. Every time a pecan falls from the tree and hits one of the birds, he says, “There goes another piece of the sky falling.”

Foxy plays to the birds’ fears and offers help, “Follow me. I’ll lead you to the Royal Palace so you can report this emergency to the monarch ASAP.”

When what you hear comes from an organization that hires foxes, i.e. advertisers or spin doctors, and especially when what you hear from such an organization points an accusatory finger at their competitors, always check facts.

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