How to Process Information

This past weekend I was brought back to a lesson that I tried so hard to drill into my kids’ heads as they were growing up. What was that lesson? Do your due diligence to avoid looking stupid. Receiving information should prompt us to categorize it in one of two places. I like to call these places files in our heads. The first file is the “dissociation” file. In short, you are telling yourself, “this information has nothing to do with me or is of little to no interest”. I file a lot of stuff there. To be quite honest, I’m really good at it. The second file is the “important/interest” information. This means that I should pay attention and process what I am encountering.

My father and I just got back from Washington, D.C. where he took part in a USA Veterans program. Long story short, we flew out with a lot of vets, went to the various monuments, and the vets got the rock star treatment for their service. It was very cool. However, we had an incident…kind of. When we went to the tomb of the unknown soldier, the vets, many of them in wheelchairs were lined up with a front-row view of action/ceremonies. The public was up on the steps looking down at this wonderful place. 

Not wanting to do anything wrong, I asked one of our guides if I could go up on the steps to take some pics for my dad. They did not want the old guys walking up marble steps…very slick. Once up with the regular crowd of people, a lady with our group told me that I could not be up there. I politely informed her that I had asked permission. Many of the other guardians of the vets laughed when I got fussed at. It was like I had been to the principal’s office. I laughed too. 

When we got back to the bus, one of the support staff of the organization got up and griped about “us arguing with the staff”. The gentleman I was seated by had also been reprimanded for not standing in the right spot while taking pics. He looked at me, smiled, and said: “I didn’t know”. “Me either”, I replied…and we smiled. At this point, the man speaking called us out and threatened to have us thrown off the tour.

Everybody’s eyes widened at this emotional enigma. Apparently this guy was told that I had argued with the lady. I had no clue, but something set him off. After his angered speech was over, several people said, “what is that guy’s problem?” How did this guy become upset so quickly? All I knew was that he didn’t do his due diligence. He received some information that upset him. Perhaps he was already upset at something unrelated and this sparked his fire. Whatever it was, it made him look like a lunatic.

We need to teach our kids how to handle information. If the information falls into the first category as stated in the first paragraph of this post, then we need to discard the information and move on. However, if it falls within the second category, there should be a process as to how we process the information. At least, we should if we don’t want to look stupid.

If someone gives us emotionally charged information that may call us to action, the first step is to try and remove the emotion from it. Emotions make us puff up information and many times, interject feelings into the facts. Let the person get the information out of their system. If time permits, after they have spilled their guts, their second rendition of the story is usually calmer and more accurate. Ask the individual if anyone else may have information that may shed light on the subject. Visit with that witness away from the original storyteller. Many times this individual will affirm or discredit the original claim. 

Buy some time and ask the original source of you may have an allotted time to process the information. This gives you more time to weigh out the information and allows the originator time to cool off. Make sure that you have the facts, not the feelings as facts in your head. Normally, with time and clarity, you will be able to assess the situation correctly.

I would many times ask my kids, “do you want to be quick or right?” Sometimes you can be quick and right. However, the margin for error is much greater. Charge that reaction with passion or emotion and you have the perfect formula for looking stupid…besides being wrong. Encourage your kids to process information and the feelings of others correctly. Be a good example of this process. Be the best dad possible.


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