Let’s talk truths and confirmation bias

The complexities of truth

I’m really intrigued by the concept of truth.

It’s probably because one of my core values is integrity, and so truth is part of that.

What I’m interested in, though, is the complexities around truth. As an indigenous woman, for example, I have a clear position that we each have our own truth, and no one has the right to say that their truth is more true than mine. It’s one of the reasons I don’t ever get involved in a whakapapa (genealogy) debate.

I know my whakapapa because it’s what my grandparents taught me. And they knew because theirs taught them. I have no reason to doubt the truth of their knowledge and their teachings to me.

I assume you gained your knowledge of your whakapapa in a similar way. If what you know is different to what I know, I’m never going to claim that what got handed down through the generations to you is any more or less true than what got handed down to me.

We both have our truth. I can live with that.

My whāngai (adopted) daughter has a truth that families aren’t safe.

That is not my truth. In fact my truth is the exact opposite – that family is my safe place to land. It’s my absolute security. It’s a guaranteed place where all is well. I don’t know how long it will be for her to develop a new truth about that, but I believe it’s possible.

I believe that one day her truth will be: I was raised in a family that wasn’t safe. I now know family can and should be a safe place.

Carver boy has a truth that humans often can’t be trusted.  It’s that you can usually expect the worst of people, and you won’t often be disappointed.

Again, my truth is the opposite – people are good. They’re all trying to do their best and be good humans, and if I trust them, I’m rarely disappointed.

ended my second marriage ultimately because my husband couldn’t be honest with himself. He wasn’t actually lying to me and those around us, because he believed the truth that he had constructed for himself to make his narcissistic universe a place he could live with.  It was a universe where he could never be to blame for the things that went wrong. It drove me crazy – me, with my core value of integrity – to watch him construct a reality that was in conflict with the evidence around us. He wasn’t a dishonest man – he built a truth (and believed it wholeheartedly) that wasn’t my truth and I couldn’t make it my truth.

Challenging our truths

On the other hand, I’d like to think I challenge my own truths regularly.

I once got a haircut that I loved, but people were staring at me. After a week I was ready to grow it out, even though I loved the haircut. I couldn’t handle the ‘truth’ that people were staring because they thought I looked weird or dumb or bad or attention-seeking or something.

But then I asked myself if my ‘truth’ was based on evidence or assumption.

I had NO WAY of knowing why they were staring (unless I asked, and I wasn’t going to do that!).

So I decided to do an experiment:

what if,

when I caught someone looking at me, I told myself they were staring because they loved my hair?  Just LOVED IT? What if I chose to believe it was an awesome hairstyle, and that other people agreed, and that catching them staring was evidence to support that?

I started walking with my head held higher. I started smiling at the people glancing my way. I’ve kept that hairstyle for YEARS. People tell me all the time how much they love it.

I built a truth that helped me feel good. Did I construct that truth for myself? Yes. And it’s a resourceful truth, and I’m keeping it.

So what?

So, confirmation bias

I guess I’m thinking about confirmation bias.

That phenomenon where we believe something is true, so we seek confirmation of it.

My daughter seeks confirmation that families aren’t safe, and finds it. Carver boy seeks confirmation that people can’t be trusted, and finds it. I sought confirmation that my hair was cool, and I found it.

So maybe you could check in on your truths occasionally.

  1. What is your truth?
  2. Is it a truth which is resourceful and helpful to you?
  3. If not, what would be a more resourceful truth? What evidence would confirm that for you? And can you start seeking it out?

How to write an essay

Seriously? Do you really want to know that? Or do you really mean How to make writing an essay EASY?  Or make it happen by MAGIC? Cos I’m not your Fairy God Mother.

If you found this blog post by googling How to write an essay,  I feel ya. It’s a scary thing.

But I got you, boo.

There’s no one way to write an essay

Anyone who says there is, is lying or selling something.

Major factors:

  1. What your tutor/professor/lecturer/teacher wants
  2. What your tutor/professor/lecturer/teacher wants

So if you don’t know that, this is gonna be a bit of an exercise in faith.  Ultimately, the person marking your essay has their own expectations. You need to find out what those are.

If this thing is due tomorrow, make sure you’ve read all the resources that have been provided to you, on paper, online, by email, whatever. If there is ANYWHERE your marker might have made their expectations of you clear, you need to find it, NOW.

If you’ve got time, ask your class mates or the tutor themselves.

Good essays take time, work, and planning

If your essay is due tomorrow, you’re in the shit (are you wearing your brown pants?).

I’ll give you the best advice I can but you gotta know, it’s gonna take some time.

Here’s what you need to do:

Must-Do #1 – Break it down

You need to break down the essay or assignment question.

WHAT ARE THEY ACTUALLY ASKING YOU TO DO?

Use a highlighter. Read it out loud. Draw a diagram. Talk it through with someone.

Make sure you know:

  • How long does it need to be?
  • What’s the general topic?
  • What’s the bottom line – at the highest level, what are they asking you to do? Summarise? Paint a picture? Argue? Critique? Reflect?
  • What boxes are they specifically asking you to tick? (Like, provide 3 case studies. Or use evidence to support your argument. Or compare 2 models.)

Must-Do #2 – Create a plan (or an outline)

From that exercise, you now need to make a plan.

A plan is just a list of chunks of your essay, in order, with a word count attached. To make the elephant edible.

An essay is like an elephant because it seems huge if you look at it all at once. But if you slice it up into bite-sized chunks, before you know it, you’re burping and patting your stomach and apologising to an elephant’s mummy.

Ultimately, you need an intro, body, and conclusion.

Intro – here’s what I’m going to tell you

Body – make chunks here from your exercise of breaking down the assignment question

Conclusion – here’s what I’ve told you – see how clear it is now?

Your plan might look something like this:

  1. Intro to the theory of unicorn training (500 words)
  2. Chunk A – Theorist A – Longbottom (800 words)
  3. Chunk B – Theorist B – Potter (800 words)
  4. Chunk C – Comparing and contrasting the theories of Longbottom and Potter (1000 words)
  5. Conclusion – Longbottom’s theory is most appropriate for contemporary times (300 words)

Within each of those sections you can now bullet some details, and assign word counts to those, too, if you like.

It is that simple.

It’s a plan.

And now you can write the bits you feel most confident in first. You don’t have to write an essay in order.

Must-Do #3 – Formulas help

We’ve already looked at the formula for a basic essay:

  1. Intro – here’s what I’m going to tell you
  2. Body – here’s me telling you
  3. Conclusion – here’s what I’ve told you

It’s a super-simple way to start planning an essay.

If you plan in enough detail, you can plan on writing about 100 words for each paragraph, and follow the formula for an academic paragraph.

That means if you have to write 1000 words, you should plan 10 paragraphs.

IT’S SO MUCH MORE MANAGEABLE THAN SITTING DOWN TO WRITE 1000 WORDS!

Here’s your formula for an academic paragraph:

SEX (Statement, Example, eXplanation)

Statement – Tell me what you’re thinking about

Example – Show me your evidence

eXplanation – Explain to me why that’s valid with your examples.

Here’s a resource.

And here’s an example.

And here’s a resource with an example.

(You’re welcome.)

And that, my friends, is the best advice I can give you.

If your essay is due in 5 hours, you better freaking move!

What can you accomplish today?

Living with depression

I’ve lived with depression officially for 15 years but in truth probably closer to 20.

I’m all good with that. It’s part of me. We manage. I know how it works and what to watch for and what to do about it.

And when I’m having a low day/week/time, everything feels like too much.

Everywhere I look, there are things. Things I need to do. That I feel like I can’t do.

It makes me want to cry, sleep, eat and or drink myself sick. None of which are helpful, but some of which I still do sometimes.

The POWER to do ONE THING!

When I have the presence of mind, what I tell myself is to pick one thing.

Just one.

I’ll shower. That’s all I need to do. Or I’ll do the dishes. That’s all I need to do. Or I’ll pick up that thing off the floor that’s taunting me. Or I’ll drive to the supermarket and just get milk. Cos even though we really need a full grocery excursion, we can’t do without milk right now, so I’ll just get that. I don’t even need to put on a bra.

Just go.

Cos who the fuck cares what I look like? Only me.

These are the mind games I play with myself to survive the low times.

Pick. One. Thing.

Because one thing almost always leads to one more thing. And before you know it, you’ve adulted for a time. And the day passes. And tomorrow’s a new day.

So even if you’re not depressed, what’s one thing you can accomplish today? One simple thing? One thing you’ll be able to look back on as you go to sleep and pat yourself on the back and say, go you, you did that thing?

What can you accomplish today?

How to write an executive summary

For the love of all that is right and good, PLEASE DO NOT WRITE YOUR EXECUTIVE SUMMARY FIRST!

Here’s why.

  1. The executive summary is the only part of a report you can guarantee will get read. So it needs to be the most powerful and well-written part. The end.
  2. The executive summary needs to be written when your thinking is the most clear (and that happens towards the end of the writing process). It makes me want to cry when I hear people being taught to write your executive summary first as a way of getting your thinking clear and planning the rest of the document. Umm, no!
  3. The executive summary should repeat some key points, phrases, and statements from the body of the document. You can copy and paste them – you do not need to rewrite! The repetition is reassuring to a reader. It adds credibility. Don’t be fooled that the executive summary is only for executives or decision makers. It’s for them yes, AND every other reader. I mean, think about it – does anyone ever skip the executive summary because they’re not a decision maker? Duh.

OK, rant over.

Now the how to.

Modern business writing doesn’t follow many of the traditional conventions you might have had drilled into you. Modern business contexts are more agile, and documents need to be, too.

That means documents that are stripped back and lean – there’s no room for fat, waffle, fluff (or anything else you might want to call it – I’m talking about the stuff that we all know no one reads, but we put it in documents because that’s the way it’s always been done).

So if we apply that thinking to the executive summary, and the executive summary is the only part of a report we can guarantee will be read, then we can’t put anything into that summary that’s not strictly necessary.

How to write an executive summary

Step 1

Know what your report needs to achieve, and which readers it needs to work for the most so that can happen.

Step 2

List the MAIN questions those readers will need to have answered for the report to be successful. Make those questions into headings.

Step 3

Find (in your report) the key points (at a high level only) that address those questions. Copy and paste them under each heading.

Step 4

Make sure the first line or paragraph tells your readers:

  • what the report’s about
  • who it’s for
  • THE BOTTOM LINE

Step 5

Go over what you’ve got with a lens of information at a glance, not traditional paragraphs and narrative. Your executive summary MUST have headings, bullets, a high-level table or visual, white space. Do not make your executive summary a solid wall of text or paragraphs with no textual differentiation.

Step 6

Slap that puppy at the front of your report, BEFORE the contents page or any definitions or lists of acronyms etc. Make it the first page after the title page if there is one.

Voila. A professional executive summary.

Just like that.

(You’re welcome.)