Topics such as government crimes and corporate power abuse are purposefully shrouded in secrecy by perpetrators (through such strategies as NDAs, compartmentalization and extortion, among other strategies). Therefore, information about such subjects is primarily in the form of individual testimony: everyday people reporting their experience and observations.
In addition to secrecy, the very nature of such challenging topics has resulted in a great deal of misinformation. This comes from both the intentional planting of disinformation and from well-meaning people who have only one part of the story or whose speculations turn out to be wrong.
This makes individual testimony both:
- Critical in gaining access to hidden information, and
- Challenging to authenticate and evaluate
Personal Credibility: You Decide
The task of evaluating testimony has two primary considerations:
- The person delivering the information (the messenger)
- The information itself (the message)
When evaluating testimony, you might find it helpful to separate the evaluation of each in order to be more clear with yourself about where you feel comfortable with the veracity of the testimony, and where you question it.
First, consider that you have a “right” to judge a person’s credibility for yourself. That is, you aren’t required to surrender the evaluation of people to others (expert and otherwise) simply because they say they know better or they speak loudly or with confidence. Journalists, politicians, scientists, doctors, and executives each have areas of expertise that you may or may not wish to consult regarding the veracity of particular information. But when it comes to judging personal credibility, you don’t have to rely only only on input from others. You can observe the person for yourself. In today’s world of hyper-information-overload and misinformation, consider that this may be an area where you can most effectively make the determination yourself.
Remember Your Purpose
If a person has come forward as a whistleblower and you’re evaluating their credibility, here are some considerations:
- Remember, you’re not evaluating the person to see if you’d like to invite them over for dinner. You don’t have to like them or be comfortable with them.
- Take note of your natural reactions to an individual based on your belief systems around general traits. Notice if you’re making an immediate judgment that may be arising unconsciously and being interpreted by your brain as “logical.” This happens naturally based on life conditioning, but if unexamined, it will get in the way of finding the truth.
- In most cases, factors such as age, gender, race, economic status, and so on are irrelevant in evaluating credibility. So reflect on if you have preconceived notions about CEOs, prostitutes, medical doctors, Navy Seals, drug addicts, laborers, teenagers, people from the Southern U.S., China, Africa, Russia, Switzerland, and so on.
- Such reactions will, of course, impact your ability to view the individual with clarity. Rather than pretend you don’t have such common reactions, it’s more effective to acknowledge them and resolve to resist allowing preconceived notions from inhibiting clear seeing.
- Take care to note not only your skepticism based on race, age or job, for example, but also where you naturally favor a person based on their credentials, political party or economic status, for instance.
- The point is to consider consciously setting aside belief systems and preconceived notions for this particular task of evaluating credibility. You can always pick them back up later, if you choose.
- The purpose in this moment is simply to evaluate their credibility to do one specific thing: deliver this particular information.
Ask yourself a few questions about the person’s apparent motives:
- What personal, career, and physical safety risks is the individual taking by sharing this information?
- What is the person’s expressed motive for giving testimony?
- What other unsaid motives might this individual have?
- What specific things has this person said or not-said, done or not-done that make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable? Are those things related to the individual’s credibility or are they extraneous?
- Are the aspects of the person that are standing out in your mind a fairly universal indicator of credibility?
- For example, let’s say that something about the person makes you think that they’re not behaving naturally, which makes you think they might be putting on a show. Look more closely to determine what is making you feel that way. Perhaps you’ll realize it’s something specific. Maybe you find that the way the person uses their hands when they speak, or the amount of eye contact they engage in doesn’t seem right. By narrowing in on such detail behind your discomfort, now you’re able to ask yourself, does this person have a cultural or social background that has different norms from the ones you’re familiar with? If so, consider that it may be difficult to wisely evaluate the individual’s character based on such behaviors.
You have three possible conclusions. (But don’t worry… you can always change your mind over time.)
- You find the person, for the most part, to be credible.
- You aren’t sure if the person is credible.
- You find the person, for the most part, not credible.
- If you find the person credible (or mostly credible), then the task is straight-forward: listen to the information with an open mind. In other words, set aside beliefs and disbelief, and simply be curious.
- If you’re not sure if the person is credible, consider if there’s more research you could do to get a sense for the person. This does not mean to read an equal number of pro and con statements about the testimony itself. Instead, try to get more direct experience observing the person. Can you find a couple of videos online to see and listen to the person speak?
- When your research is complete, if you’re still not sure about the person’s credibility, vow to consider this question again at a future time. Meanwhile, listen to the information with an open mind.
To listen with an open mind is not the same as trusting someone. It’s a quest for information. Granted, you are devoting time to take in the testimony, but you are under no obligation to believe it or trust the person. You simply want to arm yourself with information. And if you spend half your brain’s resources on questioning the source throughout the testimony, it’s difficult to clearly take in the information.
- If you find the person to be corrupt or not credible, it probably makes the most sense to turn away from their testimony and focus on other research.
- If you’re an independent researcher, then taking note of the statements and tactics of corrupt people may still be a relevant task. But if you’re simply trying to uncover the truth, then listening to people without credibility will likely make it more difficult to do so. Sociopaths are masterminds at using half-truths and many other tactics to manipulate opinion. Thus, turning completely away from such people may be the most productive use of time.
- On the other hand, liars tell the truth sometimes and if this source is the only one with access to a certain type of knowledge, you may decide you still want to hear what they have to say. If you choose to hear them out, then you might as well, once again, withhold judgment and save your evaluation of the testimony until after you’ve fully listened. In other words, either listen or don’t. If we spend the entire time that we’re “listening” thinking about how wrong they are and questioning every word, then it probably isn’t worth listening at all.
Of course, there are nonsensical people and imaginary stories. But if when we hear information we’re not familiar with, we tend to jump to that conclusion, then we’ve likely been overly influenced by those who have in the past promoted the story of “crazy” in order to maintain support for their own story.
Rational evaluation rarely results in findings of “delusional” people. To think that lots of people who come forward to report difficult issues are crazy is likely more a reaction than a reasoned conclusion.
Healthy skepticism, on the other hand, is more likely to find that a person isn’t credible for such reasons as:
- Conflicting motives
- Inadequate access to the necessary information
- Lying due to fear for their life or livelihood
Again, this is not to say that people are never delusional, but it’s a reminder that jumping to that conclusion is a questionable approach. When we quickly react to a person, calling them a wacko, the primary problem is this: it causes us to stop gathering information.
While it’s sensible to ignore people you don’t find personally credible due to a particular reason unrelated to the message, the fact that their message seems outlandish is NOT a good reason to turn away.
Take the U.S. Government Crimes Against Civilians for example. When you consider the verified crimes there, what is the likely reaction of many people when they first heard reports of such crimes? It wouldn’t be surprising if you, too, considered both the messengers and the message to be crazy. Those horrors don’t seem possible.
Consider Operation Northwoods and Operation Paperclip, for example. These have been proven with declassified government documents and congressional hearings, and are thus irrefutable. But when you first heard about false flags or hundreds of Nazi war criminals being hidden and hired by the U.S. federal government, did you think the messenger was crazy? That might be a natural reaction, but it doesn’t make the messenger or the information any less true back before documents were declassified or hearings were held. That is, no matter how much time it takes us to come around to realizing the truth in a whistleblower’s past testimony, the fact is that the testimony was always true, even when we thought it was to horrific and “crazy” to be true.