“When anyone replies to a matter before he hears the facts, it is foolish and humiliating.”—PROVERBS 18:13.
1, 2. (a) What important ability do we need to develop, and why? (b) What will we discuss in this article?
WE ALL need to learn how to evaluate information and use it to reach accurate conclusions. (Proverbs 3:21-23; 8:4, 5) Otherwise, it will be easy for Satan and his world to distort our thinking. (Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 2:8) Of course, to reach accurate conclusions, we must get the facts. Proverbs 18:13 says: “When anyone replies to a matter before he hears the facts, it is foolish and humiliating.”
2 In this article, we will see what can make it difficult to get the facts and reach accurate conclusions. We will also learn about Bible principles and examples that teach us how to evaluate information.
DO NOT BELIEVE “EVERY WORD”
3. Why do we need to apply the Bible principle found at Proverbs 14:15? (See opening picture.)
3 Today, there is information coming at us from all directions. It comes through the Internet, television, and other media. We may also receive many e-mails, text messages, and stories from friends. Sometimes it seems that there is no end to all this information. So we need to be careful. Our friends probably have good intentions, but there are other people who deliberately spread wrong information or distort the facts. What Bible principle can help us to evaluate what we hear? Proverbs 14:15 says: “The naive person believes every word, but the shrewd one ponders each step.”
4 To make good decisions, we need reliable facts. Thus, we must be very careful when we choose what we read. (Read Philippians 4:8, 9.) We should not waste our time viewing unreliable Internet news sites or reading e-mails that spread rumors. It is especially important that we avoid websites where apostates promote their ideas. They want to weaken the faith of God’s people and distort the truth. Unreliable information leads to poor decisions. Never think that false information will not affect you.—1 Timothy 6:20, 21.
5. What false story did the Israelites hear, and how did it affect them?
5 False stories can lead to terrible results. In Moses’ time, 12 spies went to the Promised Land. Ten spies returned saying negative things. (Numbers 13:25-33) They exaggerated the facts, and Jehovah’s people became frightened and discouraged. (Numbers 14:1-4) Why did the people react this way? Maybe they thought that the story was true because most of the spies said the same thing. So they refused to listen to the good things that the other two spies said about the Promised Land. (Numbers 14:6-10) Instead of getting the facts and trusting in Jehovah, the people foolishly chose to believe the negative story.
6. Why should we not be surprised when we hear shocking stories about Jehovah’s people?
6 We need to be especially careful when we hear stories about Jehovah’s people. Remember that our enemy Satan is called “the accuser of our brothers.” (Revelation 12:10) Jesus warned that opposers would “lyingly say every sort of wicked thing” against us. (Matthew 5:11) If we take that warning seriously, we will not be shocked when we hear strange stories about Jehovah’s people.
7. What should we ask ourselves before we send an e-mail or a text message?
7 Do you like to send e-mails and text messages to your friends? When you see an interesting story in the news or hear a unique experience, do you feel like a news reporter who wants to share it right away? Before you send the e-mail or text, ask yourself: ‘Am I sure that this story is true? Do I really have the facts?’ If you are not sure, you might be spreading lies. So if you do not know whether a story is true, do not send it. Delete it!
8. What have opposers in some lands done, and how could we help them without meaning to?
8 There is another reason why it is dangerous to forward e-mails and text messages without thinking. In some lands, our work is restricted or even banned. Our opposers in these countries may purposely spread stories that are designed to frighten us or make us suspicious of one another. Think of what happened in the former Soviet Union. The secret police, known as the KGB, spread rumors that some well-known brothers had betrayed Jehovah’s people.a (See footnote.) Sadly, many brothers believed these false stories and left Jehovah’s organization. Many of them later returned, but some never did. They allowed those false stories to destroy their faith. (1 Timothy 1:19) How can we avoid such a disaster? Refuse to spread negative or unconfirmed stories. Do not believe everything you hear. Instead, be sure that you have the facts.
9. What else makes it difficult to get accurate information?
9 Sometimes we hear stories that are only partly true. Other stories do not give all the facts. This makes it difficult to reach accurate conclusions. We can never trust a story that is only partly true! What can we do so that we are not tricked by such stories?—Ephesians 4:14.
10. Why did some Israelites almost start a war against their brothers, and what helped them to avoid it?
10 We can learn from what happened to the Israelites who lived on the western side of the Jordan River in the days of Joshua. (Joshua 22:9-34) They heard that the Israelites on the eastern side of the Jordan had built a large altar near the river. That part of the story was true, but it was not the whole story. And it made the Israelites on the western side think that their brothers on the eastern side had rebelled against Jehovah, so they got together to start a war against them. (Read Joshua 22:9-12.) But before they attacked, the Israelites from the western side sent some men to find out the facts. What did the men learn? The Israelites on the eastern side had not built the altar to make sacrifices to false gods. They had built it as a memorial to let everyone know that they worshipped Jehovah. The Israelites must have been happy that they did not go to war against their brothers but took the time to get all the facts.
11. (a) How was Mephibosheth treated unfairly? (b) How could David have treated Mephibosheth fairly?
11 There may come a time when we personally are hurt because people spread stories about us that are only partly true. This is what happened to Mephibosheth. King David generously gave Mephibosheth all the land that belonged to his grandfather Saul. (2 Samuel 9:6, 7) But later David heard a negative story about Mephibosheth. He did not check whether the story was true, and he took away all of Mephibosheth’s property. (2 Samuel 16:1-4) When David later spoke to him, David realized that he had made a mistake. He then gave some of the property back to Mephibosheth. (2 Samuel 19:24-29) If David had taken the time to get the facts instead of quickly reacting to incomplete information, Mephibosheth would not have suffered this injustice at all.
12, 13. (a) What did Jesus do when people lied about him? (b) What can we do if someone lies about us?
12 What can you do if someone spreads lies about you? This happened to both Jesus and John the Baptizer. (Read Matthew 11:18, 19.) What did Jesus do? He did not use all his time and energy to convince people that the stories were false. Instead, he encouraged people to look at the facts. He wanted them to focus on what he did and what he taught. Jesus said: “Wisdom is vindicated by its works.”—Matthew 11:19, footnote.
13 We can learn a valuable lesson from Jesus. Sometimes people may say unfair or negative things about us, and we may worry that this could damage our reputation. But the way we live can show others what we are really like. As we learn from Jesus’ example, our good conduct can disprove any half-truths and false accusations.
DO YOU RELY ON YOURSELF?
14, 15. Why should we not rely on our own understanding?
14 We have seen that it can be difficult to get reliable facts. Another problem is our own imperfection. We may have been serving Jehovah for many years and may have become wise in certain ways. Others may respect us because we are able to think clearly. Could this become a problem for us?
The Bible warns us that we should not rely on our own understanding
15 Yes. We could begin to rely on our own understanding. We may let our own feelings and ideas control how we think. We may start to believe that we understand a situation even though we do not have all the facts. This is very dangerous! The Bible clearly warns us that we should not rely on our own understanding.—Proverbs 3:5, 6; 28:26.
16. In this example, what happened in a restaurant, and what did Tom think?
16 For example, imagine that one evening an experienced elder named Tom goes to a restaurant and sees another elder, John, sitting at a table with a woman who is not his wife. They seem to be having a good time together. Tom sees them laugh and hug each other. He is very worried and wonders: ‘Will John and his wife get divorced? What about their children?’ Tom has seen similar things happen before. How would you feel if you were Tom?
17. In this example, what did Tom later find out, and what can we learn from this?
17 But wait. Although Tom is assuming that John is being unfaithful to his wife, does he have all the facts? Later that evening, Tom calls John and finds out that the woman is John’s sister, who is visiting from far away. John and his sister have not seen each other for many years. And because she was staying for just a few hours, John only had enough time to meet her for a meal in a restaurant. His wife was not able to join them. Tom was glad that he had not told anyone else what he thought! What do we learn from this? No matter how long we have been serving Jehovah, we still need to get the facts before we can reach an accurate conclusion.
18. What could cause us to believe something bad about our brother?
18 It can also be difficult to evaluate a situation correctly when it involves a brother we do not get along well with. If we keep thinking about our differences, we may become suspicious of our brother. Then, if we hear something negative about him, we may want to believe it, even if there is no proof that it is true. What is the lesson for us? If we allow ourselves to have negative feelings about our brothers, it can cause us to reach wrong conclusions that are not based on facts. (1 Timothy 6:4, 5) We should not allow bad feelings such as envy and jealousy to remain in our heart. Never forget that Jehovah wants us to love our brothers and to forgive them from the heart.—Read Colossians 3:12-14.
BIBLE PRINCIPLES WILL PROTECT US
19, 20. (a) What Bible principles will help us to evaluate information accurately? (b) What will we discuss in the next article?
19 Today, it is very difficult to get reliable facts and to evaluate them correctly. Why? Much of the information available is incomplete or only partly true, and we are imperfect. What can help us? The principles we find in God’s Word! For example, one principle tells us that it is foolish to reply before we hear the facts. (Proverbs 18:13) Another one helps us to see that we should not believe everything we hear without checking whether it is true. (Proverbs 14:15) And no matter how long we have been serving Jehovah, we cannot trust our own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5, 6) Bible principles will protect us if we use reliable facts to reach accurate conclusions and to make wise decisions.
20 But there is another reason why we may find it hard to find the truth of a situation. As humans, we are quick to judge things based on what we can see. In the next article, we will discuss areas in which we could make this mistake and learn how to avoid this.
a See the 2004 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 111-112, and the 2008 Yearbook, pages 133-135.