Jumping To Conclusions

We have all done it. We continue to do it even though we know it is wrong. We have all tried to stop but just can’t break the habit. We have probably been seriously embarrassed by it at least once.

What am I talking about? The way we all form hasty judgements about people or events when we are not in possession of all the facts, known colloquially as jumping to conclusions.

Take a simple example from everyday life. We see a senior citizen pushing a cart piled high with cardboard and newspapers, maybe a bag of aluminium cans on top and we assume things don’t we. That person is poor (just look at those shabby clothes), probably inadequately housed, not well educated, obviously neglected by his family or he wouldn’t be driven to eking out a pitiable living in this way.

But what if we are wrong? Suppose this is a comfortably off semi retired person who prefers to do something practical to contribute to the community’s well being. Is not recycling something we are all supposed to be doing? And would you wear your Sunday best when gathering up things others had thrown away.

Now take another example. A friend of mine is retiring soon from RTHK because he has reached the retirement age of 60. Because he is a civil servant, the fact of his retirement is not news.

But another friend of mine is also leaving RTHK soon. He is 61 and his non civil service contract is not being renewed. For some reason this departure has been front page news and quoted as an example of an alleged clampdown on freedom of the press. Mm.

Let us raise the level of the conversation and bring in foreign policy. Chinese Government spokesmen are notoriously touchy on the subject of "foreign interference in China’s internal affairs". Even the most mild and innocuous comment about Hong Kong by Britain – which is after all a co-signatory to the famous Joint Declaration, forerunner to our much-prized Basic Law – draws forth an immediate and forceful condemnation.

Most local people simply roll their eyes when this happens because they have become used to it. They know that ninety-nine per cent of the time actions or comments by foreign governments are benign.

But at the same time, there is evidence that some have sought to interfere in China’s internal affairs. Soon after the founding of the People’s Republic aid was given to rebel groups in the western provinces so that they could cause trouble to the new government. Just google "CIA covert operations in Tibet" and read the Wikipedia entry if you doubt me. And some believe there is an ongoing attempt to "contain" our country now that its power is growing.

So just as it is wrong to assume that every comment about Hong Kong by a foreign government is unwarranted interference, so it would be equally wrong to completely dismiss the idea that some who do not wish China well might try to use Hong Kong as a base to cause trouble.

The important thing in every case is to get the facts before reaching a conclusion, not announce the conclusion and then scrabble around for facts to support it.