I was sitting in bed reading last night when my husband came into the room, a concerned expression on his face.
“I’m really getting worried about that storm,” he said.
“What storm?” I put my book down, puzzled.
“Florence,” he replied. “Ken called tonight and at around seven and said he heard it was a Category Three and headed our way.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And where did he get that information?”
Larry sat down. “I don’t know,” he said. “The news, I guess.”
I picked my book back up. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Ken’s wrong.”
“Why would you say that?” he asked in a tone edged with irritation.
“Because I checked the wires before I left work.” I had just finished my twice-weekly editing stint an hour earlier, and at 10 p.m. the National Weather Service’s official report had Florence still at tropical storm strength and projected to eventually head north. What Ken had alleged was impossible.
“Well, I was only going on what Ken said,” Larry muttered. “I don’t know what reason he’d have to lie.”
I bit my tongue, having no desire to rehash the conversation we’d had a few weeks earlier regarding the $4,000 steak story. Larry’s brother, who was touring Europe, had called to recount his dining experience in an Italian restaurant that sold $4,000 steaks. I’d not believed the story for two reasons. For one thing, Larry’s brother is prone to wild embellishments and for another no restaurant that served $4,000 steaks - if such a place existed - would let him in as a worker, let alone as a patron.
I had told Larry then what I refused to repeat. People make up, embellish or repeat crazy stories for all sorts of reasons. Some just like to be listened to, like our neighbor who once told us about witnessing a bobcat fight so fierce that by the time it was over, an acre of bushes and small trees had been uprooted. Others like to trick people, hence the urban legends we’ve all come to know and hate, like the story of tourists being waylaid and later waking up in tubs of ice, to find they’ve had their kidneys stolen. Others have financial motives, and make up stories so people will give them money.
Most people who pass on bogus information are benign, though. Ken, who works at the local grocery store, probably heard someone else’s embellishment about the storm, believed it, and passed it on. Ken is a friend, so Larry believed him. Larry’s like a lot of people, who equate kindness - or feigned kindness - with credibility.
I can’t do that. If something strikes me as unbelievable I feel compelled to check it out, I don’t care who it’s coming from. You should, too. You might be surprised at what you’d find.
Larry accuses me of being a too skeptical, but I don't think that I am. I think I'm realistic, and that realism keeps me from sending my money to scam artists, believing Bill Gates will send me $100 if I forward an email or panicking about the weather.
One of our staff writers and his wife had a baby recently. A photographer took a great picture of mother and child. It’s a funny shot; in it the baby is looking at its mother with the most dubious expression. The caption under the picture read, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”
For the record, that’s skepticism.
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