One of my childhood homes was “The Maisonettes” in a quiet, oak tree shaded suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. Small apartments for teachers on the property of a large, traditional high school where my father taught History, English and Geography.
The 1st team rugby boys would practice in the field adjacent to our “Maisonette”. It was also the field where the main test matches took place with visiting schools. The battleground for fame and prestige in the high school context, complete with bleachers and priority landscaping.
I had my own rugby ball. I was five or six years old at the time. I would run out to the field if the 1st team were practicing and kick my ball over the goal posts. I felt part of the tribe. I was involved. I was practicing with the best of the best. The 1st team players, all 16-18 year olds did not mind me being there as long as I did not get in their way.
I was getting really good with my technique of kicking, especially the kick technique for penalty shots for goals or conversions. Actually, I was getting really good.
One afternoon, the 1st team captain strolled over to me and told me that I was doing it wrong. He suggested a different goal kicking technique where my foot would intercept the ball higher up on the surface of the ball, around the middle, rather than lower down. After he had delivered his sage advice, I thanked him and he walked away. I felt lucky to have gotten rugby playing skills advice from the captain of the 1st team.
Eager to put the valuable coaching from my esteemed mentor to the test, I tried his technique. I failed miserably. The ball just cartwheeled across the surface of the ground and came to a halt. A far cry from my more successful previous attempts which launched the ball at least 30 feet into the air and through the goal posts above.
I knew right away that I had been given fake intel. The question as to why the 1st team captain had given a little kid precisely the wrong information was put on the back-burner of my brain for the moment. I knew I would get angry or hurt or experience some-such emotion, eventually. Maybe.
But for now, for myself, I needed to get back to the best possible method as soon as possible. I had high aspirations of being a great rugby player one day. This meant that my skills learning had to get into high gear. I took my rugby practice very seriously. I put any notion of dejection or betrayal aside.
I gathered evidence. One piece of evidence was that the 1st team captain had failed to actually demonstrate the technique that he had advised. Another, was that I observed others team members of the 1st team and how they kicked penalty shots, or goal shots; specifically how one’s foot makes contact with the ball. Thirdly, I already had success emulating other good rugby players with excellent kicking technique, complete with swagger and celebration of a goal.
The 1st team captain never spoke to me again. I am certain that some point he noticed me kicking flawless goals repeatedly, not utilizing his technique at all.
This incident ended up being an important reference point growing up. It seemed that the intentional dissemination of false facts happened regularly on a personal, community and global level. There were plenty of gullible folks ready to accept the presented facts from “captains” and other illustrious individuals or groups (Logical fallacy: Appeal to Authority).
Today, more than ever it is concerning that people will accept information in a way that makes one question the true meaning of the word “fact.” Information disseminated in a way that leads people directly to certainty, even if that certainty, or fact, is incorrect/false.
Keep a look out for this type of intellectual laziness. I can be amusing at times to observe. Sometimes it’s tragic, with tragic outcomes.
I think that if one can, one could help people gather evidence, not conclusions. Help people build up their body of evidence. Help people recognize logical fallacies. Build tribes of folks who think for themselves.
I never became a very good rugby player. But my bullshit detecting skills got off to a racing start.