“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” -Mark Twain
How many times have you told someone something that was later retold to you by someone else?
And how often did it sound completely different from what you remember telling?
Probably a lot.
There is a game called Telephone (or Chinese Whispers) that you can play in a group that perfectly illustrates this effect in real time.
This is how you place: someone starts the game by whispering something to a player on their right. Each subsequent player on the right repeats this until it gets back around to the first person.
What makes this game interesting is how different the initial message ends up being. Nearly every time, it morphs into something barely resembling the original message.
Try it sometime, you might flabbergasted by this effect.
Then remember this the next time someone something that may have a propensity to be passed around to others.
This is how gossip can become gossip when it wasn’t gossip in the first place. It’s how a joke can morph into an attack. It’s how constructive criticism can be construed as backstabbing and “talking crap” behind someone’s back.
And so on.
The definition of hearsay is this: Information heard by one person about another.
Hearsay is usually not admissible in court, and that’s probably because of the powerful effect demonstrated by a game of Telephone.
If you’ve lived any amount of time as a human adult, you know how what you say and what others here are not the same thing.
The same goes for what you write.
The human brain isn’t neatly organized and ubiquitously accessible the way Google is. For most of the things we try to speak intelligently on, we invariably forget bits which force our mind to fill in the gaps.
That’s why scientists say that memory is a constantly changing thing. What you remember a month ago is not what you remember now nor what you’ll remember in a year.
This is universal to the human mind, and it doesn’t matter how smart you are.
We all do it. Better yet, we are all victim to it.
So what’s the answer?
Well, it’s not an easy one by any means.
The lesson/answer here is this: be far more careful with what you say, and, in general, opt to say less over more.
Furthermore, avoid offering opinions on other people.
Try to do both, but if you struggle with the first recommendation, at least work on the second. You’ll save yourself a ton of life grief if you can implement this in your life.
Plus, a benefit of taking this approach is you end up being a better listener, which is good for your relationships and career.
Armed with this knowledge should also remind you that the next time someone tells you something about something, especially someone else, take it with a grain of salt. And never try to repeat what they said to someone else… because no matter how well you think your memory works, you’ll mess something up.
Lastly, do the research yourself. And be weary of experts.
Experts can be wrong, and often are. In fact, studies have shown that experts are wrong quite often, one study stating that the typical expert was about as accurate as a monkey throwing darts at a dartboard. (Link)
Get multiple opinions then come to your own conclusion. This applies to all of life. Be weary of getting your information from only one or two sources, and forever be weary of offering up your opinions of others to others.