The Truth about the Truth
an excerpt from Managing The Middle - Police and Media relations in the New Age of Information
By: Roy Bedard
The final game of the Little League World Series was over. As usual, the losing team blamed the loss on the poor calls of the umpires. “The Umps are blind!” they shouted from the bleachers, “How much are they paying you?” shouted one parent as Jeff, the plate umpire called the final strike.
“Jackasses! “ Jeff thought to himself… “They are all just jackasses”. As he walked from the field, another parent approached him. “Great game today blue! You were dead on with those calls!” The umpire nodded his head and continued walking and as he walked his nod turned to a subtle shake of the head.
He turned back to look over his shoulder in time to see the winning pitcher run up and embrace the man who just gave him the compliment. It was suddenly clear that this man was the winnng pitcher’s father.
The Umpire walked into the clubhouse where he ran into three other Umpires that had also helped call the series. “Good game today Jeff”, one said. “Thanks man” Jeff replied wearily as he worked his way towards the locker room.
After changing clothes and freshening up, Jeff walked back into the common area. “Hey; let’s get a drink” one of the other Umpires shouted. The four of them agreed and soon they were seated around a high top at a local pub. As usual, the talked turned to baseball and they began debriefing each other on the series, recalling certain plays and certain calls that they had made. As Jeff sat and listened, he realized that each of them, having years of experience on the playing field, all perceived the game slightly differently.
He being the youngest and greenest umpire among them joined the conversation with a simple question, “Tell me fellas, how is it that you call a pitch…I mean it is fairly subjective after all…”
One of the Umpires looked at him wryly. He said, “well, I call them like I see them. It’s really simple as that.”
The second umpire looked at him inquisitively, shrugged, and began shaking his head, “nah, you have to be more objective, I call them like they are.”
The third one slightly tilted his head back. He chuckled and raised his glass to his lips. He looked over the top of the rim and paused for a moment. Being the oldest Umpire among them and having the most seniority in the league the other umpires looked at him and became quiet. Jeff tuned also turned slightly and focused on him. Looking back at Jeff, the older Umpire grinned. “Son” he said… “They ain’t nothing till I call them!”
The profound truth of this simple parable is that reality is nothing more than an agreed upon perception. Whether discussing something that has happened, is happening or might happen in the future the truth about the event is always constructed in the mind of the observer based upon many different variables. Too often the truth is considered the antithesis of a lie, and yet these two ideas have very little to do with each other.
Looking at our three Umpires, we can see three very different paradigms regarding the “truth” of a valid pitch. None of them are lying; each of them is assigned the task of describing a ball in motion as it crosses the plate. Yet they rely on different paradigms to render an opinion and though they might arrive at the same conclusion, how they got there is quite different.
I enjoy this story, because it profoundly reflects the dynamics that exist between the community, the police and the media in the new age of information.
To break down these paradigms, let’s begin with our first umpire. It’s obvious that he views himself as a casual observer, a third party to the event. He calls them as he sees them, suggesting that he might even be comfortable with a small margin of error in his reporting. He sees himself entirely as a third party judge of the truth, drawing his opinions upon the information given to him contrasted with the knowledge he has from past learning and experience as an umpire. He would tell you after an exhaustive argument that he knows what a strike looks like, and at some point would likely close the door on further conversation.
This truth schema is similar to the schema used by members in the larger community. When a situation occurs that they are made aware of, they quickly become judges of that information. Having no control over the situation, community members tend to look at the content that they have been given, and from that content, they will inevitably call it as they see it. Like Umpire number one, they are external to the truth about the pitch. They didn’t throw it, didn’t catch it – just watched as it sailed across the plate. They don’t care necessarily if it was a deceptive pitch, like a curveball or a knuckle ball. How it got to the plate is irrelevant to umpire number one. The simple fact that it got there is good enough and from that perspective a judgment can be made with very little other information.
The community like Umpire number one counts on others (the pitcher and the catcher) to provide the means for which to make a judgment call. Their truth is determined by an evaluation of what they have observed and their final judgment reflects a coming together of many different personal variables.
The second umpire’s statement is in my opinion, more representative of the law enforcement paradigm. Whereas Umpire number two, calls them like they are, he makes a strong suggestion that he is not a judge of an event, but rather a simple reporter of the facts. The pitch is what it is, and in being so – inherently posses a certain truth that isn’t subject to interpretation or debate.
Umpire two’s paradigm forces him to watch the ball as it leaves the pitchers hand. As it works its way towards the plate, he continuously observes and speculates where it may end up as it nears the strike zone. He watches it spin, notes how the air currents move it around slightly within its trajectory. If it begins to high or two low, he might lean towards a conclusion that it will likely become a ball rather than a strike. But if it changes along the path – he is trained and compelled to change along with it.
Our second umpire wants to know everything about the pitch; from the moment that it leaves the mound to the moment it arrives in the catchers glove. He wants to start drawing his conclusion immediately by lining up his observations in his mind to support his final conclusion. Whether it appears to be a curve ball or a fastball matters to him, because these types of pitches are predictable in how they behave. Their predictability brings a level of certainty as to where they where will likely end up. Umpire two does not judge pitches – he recognizes them. He calls them as they are.
If there were a margin of error for this umpire, he would tell you that it exists only in not knowing all of the facts, or perhaps having certain facts that cannot be validated with any level of certainty. Maybe he closed his eyes for a second, or perhaps looked away at the moment the pitch crossed the plate. To deal with these missing facts, he uses deductive reasoning based on all the other facts that he has observed and for which he is certain. He is completely comfortable with the paradigm that conclusions necessarily follow from their premises.
By solemnly declaring that he call pitches as they are, he feels immune to debate and in fact is offended by those who question his call. Umpire two, through his paradigm, places himself in the self-righteous and enviable position of being correct without question. He would tell you that his call is not a judgment; a matter of opinion as Umpire One’s is. His call is a matter of fact, a simple reporting of the event.
The third Umpire, having been around the longest, professes his wisdom based solely on the paradigm that he alone is in control of the call. Regardless of what the pitch actually is or isn’t, it doesn’t take shape until he reports it, and only then does it become “truth” to the audience who hears him declare it for the first time.
If it’s a close call, that could go either way, he knows that when he declares it one side will be happy while the other will be angered. Umpire three enjoys controversy, and at times he might even fudge a close call in order to satisfy a greater objective.
He may give a close call to the batter, to make the game more exciting – or take one from him if the team is already suffering a merciless beating. Umpire three knows that all things are subject to interpretation. He is not dishonest; he just realizes that the truth is transcendent, an intangible conclusion based completely upon the interpretation of events. Baseball is not a reasoned game; it is an emotional one – with both sides hollering slurs and comments at the umpire based upon their own special interests. Being called blind, and being told that he just called a great by two different people watching the exact same game no longer confuses umpire three, he has come to expect it. He is in charge of the game and all eyes are upon him. He constructs the truth with every call he makes; the pitch ain’t nothing till he calls it.
Okay,who stopped payment on my reality check?