Not (All) Just Hot Air

I had a history teacher who liked to say that at least 90 percent of what people tell you will be a lie.

On one level, that’s true — and for many reasons. People are constantly making up or perpetuating stories, sometimes with real intent to deceive but often with intent to please, to appear consistent, to avoid blame, or to live out one of the many other rationales we all make up.

There are two things to track, then:

First, the difference between outright, willful deception or untruth versus common and possibly unconscious irrationality. Irrationality, ignorance, or best intentions don’t always earn a free pass, but there’s a meaningful distinction between, say, falsifying your résumé and making up a story that connects the dots of your career as if you planned every step.

Second, the evolution of the conversation over time. Yes, lip service, window dressing, spin, obfuscation, and all the rest are real tactics — and real problems. But saying the right things often precedes — and prepares the way for — doing more of the right things.

The world isn’t doing enough about climate change, or equity, or any number of other things. But the conversation has changed from an argument over whether the issues are real to a debate about how much is being done, or must be.

That might be cold comfort in a lot of ways, but it’s not all hot air, either.