Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do
The Easiest Way to Tell a Lie
Ælflæd of Duckford
Sometimes when a person is just trying to walk, even if he's a pretty
experienced walker, he can fall down or run into something. Sometimes
when a person is just trying to talk, even if he's a pretty experienced
talker, he can fall into furnishing misinformation. the way I've most
often seen this happen is the use of absolute statements concerning what
was and wasn't done in period. Nearly any statement which begins "They
always. . ." or "They never" can be refuted. While "They never
rode bicycles" is pretty safe, "They never wore red" is a danger. As the
teachers say, "All dogs have four legs" is belied by a single three-legged
dog, and of those there are many. "Most dogs have four legs" is a truth,
and so the difference in truth and error is easily made by a single well-chosen
There is a concept with which many of you are familiar and that is "qualification."
Saying a thing is or was or evermore shall be is
inflexible, and inflexible things are easily shattered. No matter how
positive you are of a piece of information, you might consider saying
"In my opinion," "I understand," "I believe," or "I have read" just before
you impart it to others. It will serve as insurance should you be wrong,
and it gives enough flexibility to your listener that any question of
the information will be just that - criticism of the information and not
of the speaker.
Another error is to say "they" when you are thinking "12th Century French
peasants" but people in your audience are thinking "people all over Europe
for hundreds of years." Try to get in some "who, when and where" when
You will find yourself being a teacher, to a greater or lesser degree,
even if you have only been in the Society a few months. Newer members,
your relatives, your friends at work will ask you about heraldry or armor,
costumes or customs. When you have been around longer, you may find yourself
teaching in a more formal situation - a polearms seminar, a Chaucer workshop,
or a newcomers' class. It is right and good to admit when you're not sure
of the answer, and it is not a sign of weakness to say "probably" instead
of "absolutely." The danger of false information coming from a teacher
is its life thereafter - one bad statement to a large class, after they
go out and repeat what they learned, becomes twenty bad statements with
the teacher's name attached. If you present flawed information, the best
you can hope for is that no one will repeat what you said.
Bad information in itself is unfortunate but it is like litter - it can
be picked up, even by someone other than the person who left it. Worse
than the effect on the listener is the effect on the speaker. A statement
which is not true is a fallacy or a lie. While one is worse than the other,
neither is an aid to greater credibility or integrity. If a teacher gives
ten pieces of information, and you know one of them to be false, what
is to be done with the other nine? It is a strength in a teacher to give
sources, to qualify statements, and to be open enough to consider other
evidence. By conscious use of these measures the students' body of information
is purified, along with the teacher's soul.
Try these at home!
- "I think that..."
- "I read that..."
- "According to [whatever magazine]..."
- "[George] told me that..."
- "I understood [so-and-so] to say that..."
- "It seems to me that..."
- "From what I've seen and read..."
- "I'm not sure, but I think ... "
- "If I'm not mistaken..."
Even better for teachers:
- "If you read [so-and-so] you may find. . ."
- (let them interpret the source themselves)
- "According to several scholars, . . ."
- (get across the idea that authors should be compared)
- "I used to believe [x] but lately I've begun to think [y]."
- (admit that knowledge grows and changes, so students won't be afraid
when they feel theirs changing)
- "Everyone knows that. . ."
- "Any fool can see. . ."
- "Of course. . ." [I hate "of course."]
- "They always. . ."
- "They never. . ."
- "That's WRONG." (Try, in a kindly voice, "Where did you find that?")
- "YOU'RE wrong." (Try "I've read that they didn't have potatoes
All articles from the CONSIDERATIONS section:
Considerations · Etiquette
Royalty · Being an Officer · Seneschal · Heraldry and Heralding ·
Arts and Sciences · Chronicler · Treasurer · Chirurgeons · Autocrat · Welcoming Newcomers · Peerage · Language Use · Last-But-Not-Least Ideas