The universal symbol of justice is the blindfolded Lady Justice with a sword in one hand and scales in the other.  In Greek mythology, where the personification originated from, impartial justice was seen as a virtue that all emperors should aspire to.  The blindfold worn by Lady Justice symbolizes the idea that justice should be applied without regard to wealth, power or status.  Discerning truth from noise, however, has become a lost art that needs to be rediscovered.  This post aims to guide you on how to discern truth from noise in a world filled with conflicting messages.

Telling truth from fiction

Knowing what’s true in a world filled with conflicting messages and noise is hard. It seems close to impossible. Discernment has become a forgotten skill.  As a society, we find our truth by listening to other’s opinions rather than filtering through the noise to find what is true for us. Discerning our truth is the difference between being empowered and giving away your power.  It requires quiet to listen to the wisdom of your body, trusting your heart over your mind.  It’s not an easy lesson to learn though, as I discovered at a previous home of mine.

Learning discernment

Looking for a house I had a clear picture of what I wanted. I wanted a place I would fall in love with. Something small, yet spacious. Something social, yet private. I wanted something close to work and ideally with a swimming pool. I daydreamed about the old television series Melrose Place where all the residents were also friends.  Soon, the agent phoned and made an appointment to show me a place. But as we arrived for the viewing my stomach made a knot and there was a hollow feeling inside. I felt uncomfortable. A very different feeling to my previous house when I walked in I felt confident, warm and welcome. This house felt much like a hologram in The Matrix. Beautiful on the outside, but hiding what’s the desolate truth underneath.

The agent sensed my hesitance and started selling all the features as he showed me around. It ticked every box on my wishlist, yet, the unease didn’t go away. I left filled with doubt and decided to ask a few friends for their opinions. They all loved it and said I would be silly not to take it.

But still, the unease remained in my stomach.

New beginnings

Not having a reason to say no and with all external validation from close friends, I arranged for a second viewing. Still filled with doubt, I looked for any reason not to buy it but couldn’t find anything. So I decided to buy it, overriding my gut’s message.

What followed was years of corruption and struggle, starting soon after the contract was signed.   Where my previous home was happy, this became my little house of terrors.  The agent kept phoning back pushing the price up just ever so slightly. At first, I agreed, feeling it was within reason, but when I spoke to the lawyer he pointed out that they were bullying me and I should say no. I signed the contract and I don’t have to pay a cent more.

At first, everything was great and I felt my dreams finally came true. I made friends with the neighbours and we had swimming pool parties and spent weekends away diving together. But soon, as with the initial contract signing, our monthly levies increased every few months. Each time there was a viable reason. Yet, as the years passed it became evident that the money spent on the complex was limited to a bare minimum and they were just asking for more.  People started to object to the ever-rising costs.

In the face of corruption

But then, the burglaries started. Each time followed by a request for more money to upgrade the security. Like clockwise, every other month the security gates would be broken or the security system would need an upgrade after yet another burglary.  The cost was clearly and undeniably justified.

Finally, however, I had enough and asked to look at the finances myself. It was a mess with double entries and missing slips. But once I created more order from the chaos a clear pattern emerged. The majority of the expenses were going towards security, with the chairman of the body corporate as the owner of the security company. I told him about my concerns and within a few days there was another burglary.

I asked to look at the video footage and saw the gardener carrying out the bins moments after the burglary. My intuition told me that this was how the burglaries were taking place and why the thieves could never be caught. My suspicions were confirmed after I spoke to more people and involved a lawyer.  After a few intense months, the truth finally surfaced and the chairman was removed from his duties. A new committee was selected and with no surprise, the burglaries and rising costs stopped.

How to discern truth from noise

It’s a story I wish wasn’t mine to tell and a lesson I wish I didn’t need to learn.  How was it possible for seemingly intelligent people to be fooled for so long without noticing the corruption? How did we trust someone so corrupt so easily?

I was lucky to walk away unscathed. The valuable lesson of discernment was deeply ingrained within my soul and I would never make the same mistake again. I had learned how to discern truth from noise. Here’s a summary of the main lessons I learned and how they can be used on social media and news.

1. You don’t need a logical reason to say no

Discernment is a feeling. If it’s true or right for you it feels sure, stable, and calm.  It feels like standing on solid ground.  If it’s not true or right for you it rather feels like butterflies in your stomach or that nervous feeling before you go on a roller coaster. It feels like standing on a windy bridge with no support to keep you safe.

The house ticked all the boxes on my wish list. I couldn’t find a valid reason that made logical sense as to why I shouldn’t buy the house. So I did. My logical mind and ego-driven desire to look good won even though my heart and my gut said otherwise. I paid a very dear price in return.

Your body knows better. Trust how you feel.

When you read an article that makes you feel uncomfortable or fearful, trust the feeling.  It’s probably not true.  When someone tries to convince you of something you don’t believe in, trust your body. You don’t need a logical reason to say no.

2. Look past the surface

People are easily fooled by beautiful packaging like I was when I bought my beautiful magazine-cover home, as a friend once described it. News and media use this to their advantage, often using the headlines to misrepresent information to the broader public.

Never trust the headlines. Always look a little deeper.

I recently found a blatantly obvious example of this with an article from a well-known and trusted news provider doing its rounds on social media. It had a catchy and relevant headline and people were sharing it widely. When I read it, though, something didn’t look right. The information in the headline didn’t quite match the information in the body of the article, even though it was written in the present tense. It portrayed a breakthrough as if it happened today.

So I dug a little deeper and right at the bottom of the article was a list of related articles. I clicked on the most relevant one, only to find that the article written and posted today was a post from 5 years earlier, modified to influence our current perceptions.

Truth is based on facts and gets stronger the deeper you look. Noise is decorated with elaborate words but dissolves quickly as soon as you look past the surface.

3. Value your own opinion over that of others

Don’t trust blindly. The most evil people on this earth are also the most charismatic. Hitler would never have risen to his heights if he wasn’t charismatic. You need to master the art of manipulation to control the masses.

The person behind the corruption in our building complex was charismatic and nice. Everybody liked him. He never got angry, he always smiled and kept calm when everyone else was upset. He took time to have a personal conversation with the influential people in the complex and would explain things in depth. Finally, he was a master at controlling his emotions and talking around an issue.  I was fooled into thinking he genuinely cared while all he cared about was hiding the corruption and finding ways to make more money.

Truth is concise. Noise is buffered with words, explanations and justifications and trying to be nice. If someone tries to convince you to trust them with a lot of words or tries to keep people from not speaking to each other, look a little deeper.  It was only after I valued my truth over what he wanted me to believe was true and the owners started speaking to each other that the truth finally surfaced.

The more objective opinions on a topic, the more complete the picture.

4. Truth builds up, noise breaks down

Truth is inclusive.  Noise excludes, blames or tries to make others look bad.

When anybody tries to make someone else look bad or instils doubt, take it with a pinch of salt. Look for more evidence. When you read a headline that attempts to make someone look bad, consider that there might be two sides to the coin.  Maybe they did do something unethical. But maybe, someone is intentionally trying to make them look bad.

Make up your mind, and don’t believe what the media says.

Truth doesn’t need to convince you of its value as it is clear to see.  Noise, however, needs to find a way to look better than what it truly is and the only way it can do that is by attempting to break down the reputation of its competitor.  Noise tries to exclude people and information. It adds layers and layers of words in an attempt to obscure the truth, leaving you confused. If someone tells you to trust them because they know better or are more educated than you, or because you know nothing about a subject, take it with a pinch of salt.

Chaos often hides corruption, as I learned when I tried to make sense of our complex’s finances.

5. Corruption happens in increments

One of the reasons corruption is so hard to uncover is because it is never black and white. It’s a sliding scale of grey that moves ever so slightly depending on the reaction of the audience.  Corruption is a slow shift in boundaries. First, it asks just a little, later a little more and again a little more until you say no, knowing that it becomes harder to say no after each yes.

After I signed the contract the agent first asked for a little more. When I said yes they asked for slightly more and again more until I finally said no. Similarly, the corruption in our complex didn’t happen as an event one day. It shifted incrementally over the years, every few months asking just a little more.  The story of the frog in the water is the perfect example of how corruption is designed. The water is warmed up so slowly that you don’t notice until it is too late. Or until you get out of the pot.

Be careful what you say yes to and re-evaluate where your energy goes.  Facebook is designed to be addictive. It’s designed to sell you other’s external ideas, most of which is noise.  It started with just 15 minutes, then it became just 15 minutes more. Now, on average, people check their Facebook feed every few minutes. It is the go-to place for many to get opinions, find news or buy things.  And it all started very innocently years ago.

When you learn how to discern truth from noise, be careful what you say yes to. Be even more careful of what you continue to say yes to and how it changes over time.

6. Covert is more dangerous than overt

In Africa, expressing emotions, even bad emotions like anger or jealousy is more valuable than hiding them. The reason is simple – you can’t trust someone who doesn’t express their authenticity. And that includes more negative emotions at times.

When people control their external behaviour or public image too much, look deeper. Behind the scenes are always more dangerous and malicious than danger lurking in plain sight.

A company displaying inspiring values everywhere in the office doesn’t mean they live by these values. It often merely means that the CEO wants customers to perceive them as good with little input as to what is true for the company or its people. The public face is not always reality.

Similarly, what is promised in an advert or article is just that. An unfulfilled promise.  Rather look at what has been done in the past or what is currently being done. Don’t ever trust words alone.

Truth doesn’t need to be hidden. Noise doesn’t want the truth to be seen. Don’t judge someone as bad because they display their flaws publicly. Rather be wary of someone not willing to be authentic or vulnerable.  It takes great strength and courage to publicly admit you made a mistake or talk about the elephant in the room.

Discerning truth from noise is a forgotten art.  If you want to make empowered choices, learn to trust your gut and discern the truth from noise.

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With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.