Many years ago when I was doing my under-graduate work in college, I read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”. It was a good book with advice that I found reasonable and practical. In a conversation with a friend, I mentioned what I was reading. He laughed and said that it was ironic because Dale Carnegie leaped to his death from the window of a high-rise building six months after writing this book. I believed him because he stated it as a matter of fact.
There was no Internet, at least in my hometown, in India at that time. I would have had to verify such a fact by finding a biography or encyclopedia in the library - since it was no big deal, I didn’t do so. Furthermore, for several years, whenever mention of Dale Carnegie would come up, I would think, “Aha! The hypocrite who committed suicide because he couldn’t stop worrying.” The funny thing was that in later years, a Google search was just seconds away and I would still place my faith in my friend’s words. Until just a few days ago…
In my last post, I wrote about reading the Personal MBA books. Accordingly, I went to the library (Leach Library in Londonderry, NH) and found there was a new audio book for “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I like audio books since they are convenient to get through during my daily commute. As part of the whole chain of events, I finally Googled “Dale Carnegie” and got to the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dale_Carnegie. Here’s the excerpt:
“He died of Hodgkin's disease on November 1, 1955″
I did more searches on Google and, yes, he did die at the age of 67 in 1955. The “How to Stop Worrying…” book was published in 1948. I have not found any mention of suicide or euthanasia regarding his death.
So what does this mean? I wonder how many other ideas, concepts and “facts” we all walk around with believing that they are absolute truth without doing any cross-verification. The problem is that after years of listening to people, reading various sources, and other means of acquiring information, it is natural to forget where any piece of information was acquired from. And even if it was acquired from a respectable source like a news site, when does someone look at the name of the actual person who wrote the information and further verify it? How many times do we read Letters to the Editor where a mistake is pointed out?
New discoveries and inventions in every field of human endeavor are also changing what previously was accepted as fact. I was very surprised when I read that the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2005 was awarded for the discovery that gastritis and peptic ulcer disease was caused by a bacterium. For all my life, it was thought that stress was the cause of ulcers. Hence, the term “don’t burn a hole in your stomach”.
Moral of the story: Question beliefs. Cross-verify facts. Show me the corroboration.