Truth by Hector Macdonald

True or false? It’s rarely that simple. We can select truths that inspire and inform – or we can select truths that deceive. In his latest book, communications expert Hector Macdonald explores how the truth is used and abused in politics, business, the media and everyday life


'To the jaundiced honey seems bitter, to those bitten by rabid dogs water is a terror.' -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Context makes all the difference to our impression of reality. I’ve worked with companies that celebrated wholeheartedly when they made a loss of several million dollars, because the previous years had been so much worse. A modest gift from a child may be much more precious than the same gift from a wealthy adult. A cold beer tastes different after a long, hot day of manual work. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed Labour had ‘won’ the 2017 UK general election, despite taking 56 fewer parliamentary seats than the gov­erning Conservative Party, simply because everyone had expected Theresa May to do so much better. Context changes meaning.

Such context is part of the complexity of the world we are trying to understand. It is easy to say we should know the context of any actions and events we evaluate but harder to say which context is relevant or appropriate. Hearing a story in one context will give a very different impression to hearing the same story told within a different context. Deciding which contexts to highlight and which to downplay is a critical part of shaping reality.

In practice:

·      Always check the context!

·      Strengthen your arguments by framing them with the most helpful context.

·      Change attitudes to objects, people and issues by changing the context.

But watch out for . . .

·      Misinformers who share seemingly shocking news without understanding the full context.

·      Misleaders who deliberately leave out critical context, especially when quoting others.

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