It seems, over the past few years, that anecdotal evidence and emotional thinking has taken a larger and larger role in our culture. As I am typing I understand that my opening statement, in a blog about anecdotal evidence, offers little more than my own opinion and observations on the topic with no proof provided, but I digress. What I mean by anecdotal evidence is when a person takes a specific story with a specific context and applies it in a general or universal way. Let me give you a few examples:
- Politicians use anecdotal evidence in almost every speech and every stance they take on something. Every state of the union focuses on human interest stories about service men/women, families who have undergone a terrible tragedy, or someone who has won a heroic victory and each President tries to apply these specific instances to the entire nation or to a much larger group of people. In the same way, each political party tries to use tragedies or disasters to further their own agenda rather than calling them what they are…Tragedies. The reality is that it is simple anecdotal evidence that may or may not apply to the rest of America and almost definitely does not apply to the rest of the world.
- Christians use anecdotal evidence in the Bible to try and push their beliefs on others or to further a point they are trying to make. We take narratives out of context and say things like, “If Paul did this or the Holy Spirit worked like this or if these people were baptized then it is a command for us as well.” We use the wisdom poetry to try to convince ourselves that every Christian is supposed to be rich and say things like, “If it happened to Solomon and we do what he did, then it will happen to us.” We take experiences that we have had in church or in life and try to make them equal to (and sometimes even greater than) Biblical truth.
Anecdotal evidence, while powerful as a way to enhance or explain a deep truth, should not be enough to change our thinking on any subject. For instance, let’s say I am about to purchase a new coffee maker (which I did just a couple of days ago). I go to Amazon and I decide that for every machine I look at I will only read the first review and whatever it says I will believe. Now, why is that a bad idea? It is a bad idea because I am reading the experience of a specific person in a specific context and anecdotal evidence like this is not what we should base minor decisions on and it should definitely not be what we use to make major life decisions. Just because the first reviewer got a coffee pot that “leaks hot water from the top” and gives it a one-star rating does not mean it is a bad machine. In fact, that particular customer may have thought that the spout from which the coffee is supposed to come was a leak in the machine! We have all allowed this type of thinking and this type of “evidence” to overtake facts.
Anecdotal or experiential evidence almost always leads to emotional thinking. Emotional thinking, while important, is not always based in truth. Empirical evidence, on the other hand, almost always leads to logical thinking. Logical thinking, while important, is not always interpreted correctly if it is devoid of emotion. The truth is, charity work is emotional by nature and it always will be to an extent. There is, however, this middle ground that we must seek if we are going to help fight the war on poverty in our world. It is so easy for us (and by “us” I mean those of us in the nonprofit world) to get so caught up in our own cause and it our own passion that we forget to make sure what we are doing is actually helping people. We have a tendency to make everything emotional and we become reactive to everything rather than proactive in what we do. At the same time, we can interpret data in accordance with our beliefs and passions rather than truth and facts. The bottom line is that it is easy for either way of thinking to lead us to trouble.
I just started an online class called “The Challenges of Global Poverty.” This class is designed to teach and show the importance of empirical data and facts when it comes to fighting the global war on poverty. It will teach us how to design experiments that are meant to provide data that will help governments and nonprofits understand if what they are attempting to do is actually fighting the correct problem. I believe that this class will be very helpful, but I also believe that there are so many different variables that we must take into account when developing our vision and strategic plan, that experiments and data are not enough. A lot of what happens in the world of academia is that theories and principles are formed, but they are formed at a safe distant from the problem. They are useful guides but they are not conclusive in their own rights.
Our goal at All Things New is to what is best for our children and for our community. In light of that, we have had to change a lot of our initial goals because they were not the best use of our time and our resources. What I can promise you is that we will never get so caught up in our own agenda and our own passions that we forget why we came to Haiti to begin with. We are here to worship Jesus Christ, first and foremost. In light of that, we will always do our best to love and care for our children and improve our community. We will also do our best to combine the best qualities of emotional thinking with the best qualities of logical thinking so that we always use our resources, expertise, and passion well. We will not be perfect, and we will make mistakes, but we will always do our best to use what GOD has blessed us with to help in the best way possible.