Wake Up and Smell the Data

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It can be very difficult these days to manage relationships. We seem to disagree with each other much more today than we did even five years ago. And if you are expecting this to be a political article, then you’d be wrong. You certainly don’t want the whole truth about politics, so I will keep it short and vague enough so as not to offend the easily offended. Politics and politicians change over time and so do our beliefs, but the truth does not change. It cannot be invented; it can only be revealed.

It’s not news that American media outlets have focused on negative stories in the past 50 years and, in truth, going back to the 19th century as well. (Slavery, civil war, and cholera will do that to you.) After all, you can’t sell Prozac or Cowboy Whiskey with good news. Everyone understands that, so there will be no media bashing here either. We will simply take a look at how our relationships with our customers, employees, and the rest of our fellow humans are affected by a change in beliefs.

No political commentary or media criticisms? No, the truth itself offends people badly enough simply by holding us accountable to ourselves. It needs no help or slanted embellishment.


Over the past 25 years, we have stopped being students of history. Consider a sampling of evidence: Exhibit 1 is Jay Leno’s man-on-the-street interviews; in a notable one, half the Gen Xers he surveyed did not know what the native language of Amsterdam was. (One guy replied “Amsterdamian.”) Then there is Jimmy Kimmel’s “Generation Gap” game, which shows a lack of history knowledge on both ends of the age spectrum: Apparently, millennials have never heard of the War of 1812 and think Donny Osmond was on The Brady Bunch, whereas people over 85 years old seem to have forgotten almost everything they once knew.

From this seemingly self-inflicted and age-related void, we have created our own truth. We choose to remember what we want. After all, we have the right to our own beliefs, and no one can deny us that right! Right? It makes sense that if you are young and have no experience, you might struggle to value what you are being shown by your older boss. Young customer service providers and call center professionals might not see the importance/relevance of what a seasoned manager has taught them. And, if you are older, your experience might have timed out and might not always apply to modern situations. How many of us at 70 know how we felt at 20?

However, it seems we have chosen the right to believe over what we used to call a fact. When I recently mentioned a 50 percent drop in murders over the last 40 years and pulled up the FBI website of supporting data from the 1950s onward, the person on the other side of the conversation responded, “I think there are more murders now, so I choose not to believe that.” As support, this person stated that Chicago had a record number of nearly 600 murders this year; I countered with the official FBI site, which shows that Chicago’s murder rate is in fact decreasing long term, with more than 1,100 murders in 1993 and over 900 in 2001. The response: “I don’t believe that and I have a right to my own belief.”

At that precise moment, I realized that the truth is not the tool of influence that it had once been—that we live in the emotional truth of the moment, and it shapes the future. It’s true that we have spikes in crime (and in all data) by year, by month, and by day. Is it that we’re so used to instant gratification that we need for things to be only as they are in this moment or week or month? And do we need things to be bad?

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