Perception, reality, feelings and evidence


If I knew the source of this joke, I would cite it. However, I’ve heard it told several different ways in many more than two handfuls worth of places, so let’s just mash a few of them together and offer it up…

A company Vice President has initiated a search to fill a new position. She has asked Human Resources to send along the best three candidates regardless of background.

The first candidate arrives, and after going over a resume that includes financial planning and an accounting degree, the VP asks: “What is one plus one?”

The candidate responds: “2”

The VP thanks him for coming in and concludes the interview.

The second candidate arrives, and after going over a resume that includes running several successful small businesses, the VP asks: “What is one plus one?”

The candidate responds: “2”

The VP thanks her for coming in and concludes the interview.

The third candidate arrives, and after going over a resume that includes economics and public relations, the VP asks: “What is one plus one?”

The candidate looks at the VP carefully, and then gets out of his chair. He goes to the office door and locks it, then walks over to the windows and draws the shades. He sits down again, leans forward in his chair and in a lowered voice responds: “What do you want it to be?”

In my professional experiences… dealing with my job demands, co-workers, and customers, and all scenarios that could possibly result from any situation or combination of them… I have learned several lessons. Two of the most important…

*** Perception is stronger than reality

*** Numbers lie

Context is always an important thing. And so, let’s understand I’m not suggesting some sort of mystical world where the square root of sixteen is purple, everything you know is wrong, and you really should stop reading this essay so you can go find the perfect hat for a cup of tea before the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter arrive.

The trouble is, we live in a world where: (1) person a and person b can have wildly different opinions on things, (2) quite often for solid evidence and fact, the point where you joined the story or the angle from which you are viewing the world or even the time at which a statement is made can determine accuracy, and, (3) the world is an imperfect place.

Consider… dinosaurs.

The article I’ve linked to here is an older one, and it does appear that Google is now offering a few different options on the first page of results. For my purposes, that doesn’t matter. What I want you to focus on is something slightly off-center and well-beyond the argument of what material should show up as the top for such a query:

Number one – There are an awful lot of people that believe dinosaurs and man walked the earth at the same time. There are a lot of people that categorize the story of Noah’s Ark as non-fiction. There are people that have seen ghosts… have seen Jesus in a cube of ice… think that having the 8-year-old drive the ride on mower on the highway because they’ve been drinking is a great idea. (Because it keeps the car off the road and them away from the wheel… that’s why.)

Number two – Over the ages, people have been convinced of many things that have been discredited.

Let’s get back to the joke we opened with.

Tell the people what they want to hear… and, from that… don’t let the facts stand in the way of a good story.

And here is where we could make a huge turn into the world of politics.

But I’m not going to… because it’s too easy, and, because we don’t need to.

The reality is… politics, as elsewhere… there are far too many people looking to provide us with some version of those magic words: “What do you want it to be?” And, depending on the timing, the information, and our personal beliefs, we accept it as an offer without investigating the potential results.

Do you like arriving at the airport to learn about fees you weren’t expecting?

Do you understand why, when building something, true and accurate measurements just might be critical?

For these and other reasons that we could list here or share in conversation, you probably can begin to develop a sense of why all of our beliefs have value and validity. Yes, there are places where we can—hopefully—arrive at common ground and say this is right and this is wrong without disagreement. Overwhelmingly though, we live our lives making choices, forming opinions, and taking actions where right and wrong is not involved.

It’s preferences. It’s character. It’s the things you do when others are watching… it’s the things you do when they’re not.

The funniest part of this essay for me is that I’ve started writing it many times. Far too often I read articles, see videos, take part in discussions, and have one thought ringing in my head: this person is not like the rest of us. It just so happens that the first paragraphs I wrote actually did wander down the road of dinosaurs… did look at whether or not Google was working properly if the first answers the search engine provided when asked what ever happened to them involved a religious plot. Ultimately, I decided it was worth pointing the dinosaur situation out, but not as great a part of our wanderings as it needed to be.

Because… if you believe in ghosts… if religion gives you strength… if you want to think the world is flat… that works for me, regardless of my agreement with or opposition to such ideas. As long as you and I aren’t hurting others with those beliefs, we’re good.

But let’s understand that all opinions… all feelings… are not based on impartial or even verifiable evidence. Let’s understand that perception and reality are often quite different. (And let’s agree that while an 8-year-old shouldn’t be taking the riding lawn mower out on the highway, realistically, none of us should.)

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at