“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” ¹
John Adams said these words in his defense of the British troops involved in the, so called, Boston Massacre. No one else would defend them in court at the time. Tensions between the colonies and Great Britain were at their peak. An event like this was merely another major spark in a fire that was ready to roar.
What really happened on that cold March evening when a few British troops shot five colonial citizens? To the newspapers and the hundreds of people involved there was very little doubt as to what the facts were. These events flowed so naturally with the tensions and conflicts at the time. Emotions and raging anger drove people to demand that “justice” be served.
If it wasn’t for one brave and honest young lawyer names John Adams, these troops would have been convicted and executed on false charges. Adams proved that they were in fact innocent of the charges of murder. To do that, he had to risk his career and his reputation. He had to go against the masses. He had to dig through layers and layers of misinformation and false testimonies.
I think that this is a powerful illustration of one of history’s more valuable lessons. Facts are indeed stubborn things. And indeed our wishes, inclinations and the dictates of our passions cannot alter them. Nevertheless we can attempt to bend them. We can dress them up. We can bury them under layers and layers of information which makes them obsolete. And this is indeed what we are often bent on doing.
When we look at the landscape of history, nearly all the conflicts, crises, tensions and even victories are fraught with powerful people, doing powerful things, driven by misconceptions, misinformation and even lies. The wishes, inclinations and dictates of their passions very often end up playing the foolish decisive role in building their worldview and articulating their answers.
Many of those who made a noble and powerful impact on history were simply those who were driven by an honest desire dig through the layers of propaganda, to question the status quo, and to stand for the facts. These people almost always faced a massive wall of opposition.
This is a battle that seems to penetrate down the the deepest aspects of who we are. As we face the challenges, questions and complexities of life, we often don’t really want to hear the truth. We would much rather hear what we want to hear. We are often biased to bury the facts deep down, under layers and layers of stories and answers that we prefer to stick to, answers that work for us, answers that make us feel better.
The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, pointing out that our inclination to the suppression of facts is rooted in our suppression of the ultimate fact of God and our accountability to him. Our problem with the facts of the past and the present is driven by our problem with the ultimate fact that we must some day answer to the One who runs this world. Its a bias that runs down to the core of who we are.
And yet, as Mr. Adams points out, facts are indeed stubborn things. And no amount of burying or dressing up will change that. Sooner or later we will all know that. Eventually, all that will remain are the facts. Where will you be then?
(1) John Adams, ‘Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,’ December 1770
US diplomat & politician (1735 – 1826)