We live in an age of data. Companies are tapping into powerful new technologies to make more informed business decisions based on everything from social media trends to machine sensor readings. But sadly, we as a collective don't seem to be able to tap into data as effectively for our own decision-making.
Whether it's a result of the hyper-sensational 24-hour news cycle or our busy lifestyles that demand issues be broken into 140 characters, rhetoric now dominates over data. We should live in the era of evidence-based decision making, but instead our views are too often influenced by bluster and pre-conceived notions and beliefs.
Part of the reason that rhetoric holds sway is that while there's no shortage of data to support our decisions, the paths to that information are incredibly fragmented. This makes it difficult and time-consuming to find important facts, so people tend to resort to preconceptions and often poorly informed assumptions.
I experienced this first-hand in the weeks after the Sandy Hook tragedy. I was a regular - with a handful of others - at our local school board meetings. However, in the wake of the shootings, the room was bursting at the seams. Parents were calling for everything from panic buttons to bulletproof glass to armed principals - all reactive steps to prevent a similar tragedy in our schools.
My position was quite different, but equally unsupported by fact. As others shared their ideas I worked my smartphone in vain, searching for data to support my belief that adding guns to the school environment would do nothing to solve the problem. I couldn't find the compelling and trustworthy facts on my phone that I needed to make my case. It was a terribly frustrating experience, and when I arrived home I dove into researching the issue further.
At the next meeting, armed with a simple two-column chart that supported my original hypothesis, I made my case again. The chart showed over 100 student suicides for every one student killed in a school shooting. I made the point that if we truly wanted to protect our students from harm, we needed to better address suicides, particularly with suicidal thoughts being a common precursor to mass shootings.
With just this one chart, the sensationalized arguments were muted and discussion moved on to these other, more important topics.
Wouldn't it be incredible if that were how all decisions were made?
Imagine a world where one day each year there was a holiday. Let's call it Fact Day. On Fact Day, every citizen would have to support his or her position on one important issue with facts. No longer could your uncle be anti-union due to a bad experience with a car he bought in the 1980s. No longer could your daughter oppose fracking based on a celebrity tweet.
On this one day - Fact Day - all citizens would have to find and share the facts that supported their positions, or be shamed into changing their positions if the facts dictated.
Of course, Fact Day will never be an official holiday, if only because many of our legislators would have the most to fear. But if you believe that smarter people and smarter decisions can make for a better world, there's nothing stopping you from having your very own Fact Day as a first step to a better future.