A traveler came through a small country town and brought with him news from around the globe. Citizens gathered in the courthouse square to listen as the man spoke for hours about events occurring in places they would never visit and people they would never meet.
From morning to evening, the traveler painted a bleak picture of the world. Wars, pestilences, fires, floods, injustices, political corruption; the endless tales brought great anxiety and heaviness of heart to those in the peaceful village.
Dusk settled like a shroud of gloom. The visitor glanced at the clock tower, ended his talk, and descended the steps from the courthouse portico.
“Sir.” The village elder rose from a bench and hobbled through the crowd toward the traveler. “You’ve distressed us greatly with your discourse. May I ask you a few questions?”
“Of course.” With a slight nod, the man confirmed his assent.
“These things of which you speak… Are they true?”
“According to those who sent me, yes. I suppose them to be so.”
“But, have you confirmed, beyond reasonable doubt, these things are true?”
“Tell me about the people who sent you. Do they have a reputation for being truthful? Are they virtuous, trustworthy, and honest?”
The traveler hooked a finger in his collar and pulled it from his bobbing Adam’s apple. “I don’t actually know them on a personal level, but I assume they are.”
“Assume?” Clutching a walking cane, his legs unsteady, the gray-haired man shook his head. “By your own admission, you know little to nothing about the character and motives of those who sent you on this journey. The stories you shared may be true, false, or a twisted blend of both, which renders them questionable.”
“It’s getting late, and I must move on to the next town.” With great haste, the man packed the papers with his many notes into his valise.
The crowd parted and made a path for the man’s exit.
“Tell me,” the old man called out to the traveler’s back. “Did you expect us to take action based upon news that was built on a foundation of suppositions and assumptions?”
Turning, the traveler snarled and cursed the old man. “Stay uninformed, all of you.” He spat on the ground, pivoted, and stormed away.
Murmurs rose from the crowd, and the people gathered around the elder.
He silenced them with a raised palm. “It has been said that to be misinformed is often worse than being uninformed. We can act only upon that which we know is true. To do otherwise is to propagate lies or misinformation.”
A young man stepped forward. “Are we to do nothing, then? If, indeed, there is any truth in the things the stranger has said, ought we not do what we can to help remedy these things?”
“First seek the whole truth. Make it your sure foundation. Then act upon it.”
The moral of the story:
- Information is only as reliable as its source
- Before spreading a story, practice due diligence and make sure it is true.
- Don’t be an unreliable source.