Become a map reader is the third part of the Reaching others series. This part helps us to have honest conversations in which we seek for a common truth even with those who have differing opinions.

You may have asked yourself: Why doesn’t everyone notice that something is not right?

Here we try to find an explanation to that question.

We perceive reality by interpreting it in accordance with our own inner mental image of reality or a mental map of reality that we have created through our own experiences in life. The maps are personal and differ from one another. If we don’t understand another person’s map, we can end up talking past the person and find it difficult to get through to them.

Everywhere we turn, we can see advertising and marketing. The media and authorities share similar methods of propaganda when they want to influence us. If we understand how propaganda is structured, we can easily detect it and point it out to others.

With an understanding of how the public narratives are constructed, we can see which pieces of the puzzle need to be added onto the map of the person, for them to have the ability to see through those narratives. When we understand how the person perceives reality, it becomes easier to reach them.

Our inner map

We have an inner map. That map represents our perception of reality and contains the sum of our knowledge, beliefs and values. We can notice that it spans throughout all levels of our mind. Some parts of the map are in our conscious mind, others are stored in our subconscious mind. [1]

We need the map to make reality, with its infinite details, understandable to us.

The map is personal

Every person has a unique and individual map. We build our map, our perception and comprehension of the world, through both our personal experiences and through stories we are being told.

There is always a gap between reality and our own map. Stories that we get through the media also get to occupy a lot of space in our maps. If those stories aren’t truthful, the gap between reality and our perception of that reality widens. Maps are not inherently right or wrong, but rather more or less useful in describing reality. [1]

To reach others, we need to understand their mental maps. That way each conversation becomes an opportunity to better understand each other’s perspective.


We filter information when we build our maps. The filters are necessary, because reality contains far too many details for us to process and handle. When we build our maps, we draw upon our previous experiences and filter new information in mainly three ways: through deletion, distortion and generalization. [1]

The content of our maps is unique because we all filter information in different ways. The fact that we filter differently can explain why we can see the same events in such different ways.


Why do we delete information? We do this because it’s impossible for us to process all the information we receive.

In order that the important information does not get drowned in the sea of informational noise, we delete everything that we deem unimportant.

How do we do that? By keeping in our awareness only that what we are currently focused on. The rest is deleted. We also delete information that does not match with the contents that are already in our map. It simply becomes too much of an effort to try to fit it in. Deleting the information helps us avoid cognitive dissonance.

What can go wrong when deleting information? Should the deleted information be important, our map will be sparse with many gaps.

An example of deleted information is that we rarely think about the fact that all medicines actually have side effects and that they can never be completely risk-free.

Another way to delete information is to avoid information channels we don’t trust.


Why do we distort information? We do this bridge our knowledge gaps. That way we can achieve better coverage and alignment with the contents that are already in our map.

How do we do that? The distortion occurs when we start making assumptions. We have an idea of how different contents in our map all fit together and when presented with new information we try to conform that information to the contents that are already present in our map. In that way we make an assumption of what the new information is about and adapt that information to fit that assumption.

What can go wrong with that process? When we make assumptions, we might start treating them as being factual—believing that we have discovered something new and objective, while in actuality those assumptions are not backed up by anything substantial. We can therefore start excessively relying on our own assumptions as a valid and objective criterion of how to make sense of the world, while in reality, unbeknownst to us, our perspective might be skewed and distorted.

If someone wants to manipulate us, instead of directly conveying their message, they can insinuate it. They can intentionally present an incomplete message with an allusion to what is lacking in it. If we are not careful, we can unconsciously fill in ourselves the intended alluded message.

An example of how we can distort information and fill in the gaps is that we start perceiving recommendations as being mandatory. Another example is that we assume that there must be a good reason why someone expresses themselves condescendingly about someone else or a certain group of people. We can then easily get a distorted picture of that person or of that group of people.


Generalizations are a collection of conclusions we have about a particular situation or a subject. We use generalization to instinctively recognize important situations. Generalizations often determine how we react.

How do we do that? We draw conclusions about a certain situation or event on the basis of previous experiences we had with similar situations or events. We only need two or three related experiences to be able to generalize from them and believe that all other experiences similar to them will offer us the same type of conclusions. The experiences that lead to generalization do not have to be self-experienced. They can be other people’s experiences that we get told to us. There are plenty of such stories in the media.

What can go wrong? Generalizations are difficult to get rid of. They can become a problem if they significantly deviate from reality. People who adopt such generalizations might be harder to reach.

An example of a generalization is a statement which claims that those who are critical of the narrative are societally irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

Facts, logic and reason

Why don’t facts, logic and reason work? It’s not because those that we talk to don’t have the capacity to understand certain issues at hand; they simply do not want to understand them. The reason for that is that we are not on the same side. [1]

When we are ideologically opposed to someone on an issue, we are not receptive to hear and understand what they have to say. We delete, distort and generalize information from groups that are opposed to our own. So-called fact-checkers give the filterer an easy way out by letting them avoid taking a position on and assessing difficult information and complex issues for themselves.

Many conversations have revolved around people trying to convince each other, based on their different group affiliations and perceptions of reality. Unfortunately, that approach usually delivers poor results.

The 5 rules of propaganda

On average, about 10 percent of a company’s turnover is allocated to marketing. [2] Sometimes it is more. In 2019, pharmaceutical company Pfizer spent 34 percent on advertising and sales. [3] So much money is only invested if you know that marketing and propaganda works.

To understand what has happened to our family and friends, we need to examine how propaganda distorts the perception of reality. With the help of “The Five Basic Rules of Propaganda”, we examine how propaganda is structured.

In Norman Davies book Europe: A History, he describes in critical terms the history of Europe with recurring cycles of abuse by authorities and how propaganda is systematically utilized to shape the population’s perception of reality. Based on his work, he has identified the five basic rules of propaganda; simplification, disfiguration, transfusion, unanimity and orchestration. [4]

The simplification occurs by reducing everything to an oversimplified opposition between good and bad or good and evil. One such simplification is the belief that only a vaccine can keep us healthy. We can counteract that argument by showing a variety of other options available, such as good nutrition and exercise.

Disfiguration occurs by discrediting and lowering the credibility of your opponents by caricaturing and smearing them. For example, labelling practitioners, who encourage natural or alternative methods of staying healthy, as dangerous charlatans and quacks. [5] We can counteract that distorting process by not accepting and by gently challenging condescending labels.

Propaganda is transfused when the desired message is inserted into the values and belief systems that the target audience already has. As citizens, we often share the belief that it is important to be responsible and to protect ourselves and others. Authorities can then use that belief to their own advantage and infuse into it an idea that anyone who does not follow their advice or does not take the vaccine is selfish and societally irresponsible. We can counteract that line of thinking by highlighting the illogical reasoning it utilizes.

Unanimity can be achieved through presenting a certain opinion as being widely accepted by all experts and right-thinking people, thus giving an appearance of consensus, where none might exist. One example of that is when all government officials and experts claim that the vaccines are safe. We can counteract that claim by pointing out the large amount of criticism that exists in regards to it.

Finally, the last basic rule of propaganda is orchestration. This is manifested as an endless repetition of the same message in different ways, throughout different channels and in different combinations. In this way, resistance can be weakened even in those that question the narrative.

Discover propaganda

Now that we know what the basic rules of propaganda are, we can more easily detect when they are being used. It is likely that you are experiencing propaganda when: you are expected to be either for or against something, derogatory expressions are used, prejudice and bias are involved, an idea that everyone agrees is promoted, and the repetition of a uniform message is noticeable.

Understandably, we expect something quite different from those who engage in honest journalism. After all, honest journalism should show several sides of a contentious topic. Honest journalism shows respect for everyone involved and promotes understanding and tolerance between different parties. It desires a lively and open debate and seeks out a variety of opinions to capture our interest and find the most probable truth.

Hotel of knowledge

Hotel of knowledge is a metaphor which helps us understand the mental map in another way.

Anyone who has been critical of how the narrative has been presented in the media, did so, because their own research, thinking and examination uncovered many problematic issues within the official narrative. This led us to investigate such diverse topics as the nature of diseases, the interests and profits of the pharmaceutical industry and influence of international organizations, among other things.

Over time, we have accumulated a diverse set of knowledge and stacked those realizations one upon another. We can see these truths that we have piled on top of each other as floors in our hotel of knowledge. [1] Each stack added another level of understanding about a particular topic, until we reached the top floor, which represents the synthesis of all that knowledge and the conclusions we derived from it.

Those who have uncritically accepted the narrative have not had the motivation to do the same amount and diversity of research. They absorbed information, propagated by the media, which helped them construct a different viewpoint on the situation. Unfortunately, that information might contain certain untruths which leads them further away from the reality of the situation and might leave their hotel of knowledge lacking certain key information.

If we trumpet down our conclusions from the top floor, while the people we are trying to reach are still located on the ground floor, they will have a hard time grasping and understanding our perspective. Without them realizing certain basic underlying truths about a particular situation, any information that builds upon those truths becomes difficult to relate to and understand. Often, it is also hard for people to accept when some of those conclusions point to certain uncomfortable truths.

For that reason, when trying to reach others, rather than sharing our conclusions, it is better to try to find a common ground and start sharing knowledge at the level that the person is at, and from which they can process and absorb that knowledge.

Common ground

When we look for common ground truths that we share with the other person, we engage in conversations at the ground floor.

There we can explore issues such as the fact that politicians are influenced by special interests, that corruption exists and is perhaps even widespread, and that advocacy campaigns are common and sometimes openly promoted, as examples of such common ground universal truths.

But if we trumpet from the top floor to those passing below that “The World Economic Forum and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation rehearsed a pandemic tabletop exercise called Event 201, just months before that same pandemic broke out” [6,7] we will find it difficult to reach them.


How are public narratives structured? To achieve the goals of propaganda, the media and authorities have broadcasted a constant stream of superficial and contradictory news, announcements and ideas. Over time, the public narrative has become increasingly thinner and far-fetched.

Those who have embraced the narrative have built their map on the basis of conflicting information. Their map has become a house of cards. Thus the wobbly construction of the map cannot withstand the criticism of the narrative. Censorship becomes a necessity.

The Covid narrative

How is the covid narrative structured and what does it need to contain for people to believe in it? The basic assumption of the covid narrative is that there is a serious pandemic going on. On that premise the following alleged truths have been built upon; [1]

  • The covid tests work and are reliable;
  • Even though politicians cannot always be trusted, we can still trust the institutions and authorities overall,
  • There is an effective oversight of the healthcare system and the pharmaceutical industry, checks and balances are in place
  • All criticism against the covid narrative is unfounded and misleading

For those who hold these truths, it is easy to make a conclusion that the authorities are just doing their best to deal with the unprecedented situation.

On the basis of those truths, other claims are built up;

  • Alternative effective treatments are missing, since it is a novel coronavirus
  • Natural immunity is not an effective strategy
  • The vaccines are safe and effective,
  • There is a scientific consensus regarding the pandemic

Should all this be true, the person holding these beliefs naturally concludes that the injections are necessary and “the only way out”. Authorities make it very easy to follow that line of thinking and obstruct any other alternative viewpoints.

We can see then that there are several truths that are missing on such a person’s map and need to be added to it. For example: In many cases, covid-19 has been cited as the cause of death in a questionable manner thus exaggerating the severity of the pandemic. There is widespread scientific disagreement about the nature and severity of the pandemic. The mainstream media has not performed objective and critical examination of the pandemic and is biased. The political, institutional and corporate oversight does not work—checks and balances are missing.

The illusion of explanatory depth

We often think that we can provide an explanation for all the beliefs, values and knowledge we have in our map. However, if someone were to ask us to explain how we know that what we think and believe is true, we would find ourselves in many cases struggling to explain it. In essence we would lack the explanatory depth. [1]

The illusion of explanatory depth is a common phenomenon and applies to all of us. If you can’t explain why you believe or think something, it’s often good to admit it. That way, you don’t lose credibility and show that you’re just human. You can then also use that as a motivation to further explore your ideas and beliefs and assess if they’re built on solid foundations or not.

Those who have accepted the narrative believe in several different superficial ideas which they will struggle to sensibly explain in depth. Anyone who tries to explain or defend such superficial ideas can discover for himself the logical contradictions inherent in them and in the narrative such ideas try to purport. In some cases, that might trigger cognitive dissonance. In such cases, don’t be judgmental, but sympathetic and supportive and help soften the person’s cognitive dissonance.

Reaching all the way

So how do we reach others?

If we want to reach others all the way, it is important to try to first get on the same side. Once there, we make an effort to explore the contents of and try to understand each other’s maps. With that understanding, we can look for opinions and beliefs that we have in common and agree upon, and from there try to together seek for common truth.

Choose a path which invokes the least resistance. Don’t worry that some important parts of the narrative understanding are for now out of reach for the other person. When they become aware of the contradictions in the narrative, and their trust in the media and authorities is broken, the house of cards gets unravelled by itself. Anyone who has begun to question the narrative eventually continues to reevaluate other parts of it as well.

Shock therapy?

You can also think of other methods to reach others. We can call one of those methods a “shock therapy”. This is when we use hard hitting images, messages and sometimes raw humour to showcase contradictions in the public narrative.

For some, it was precisely the hard-hitting truth that made them see through the narrative. So shock therapy has worked in those cases. Thus far, this method also seems to be one of the most widely used when trying to reach others.

But far from everyone is receptive to the shock therapy. Most likely, those who are receptive to this method have already been reached. Others need to be reached in other ways. [1]


Each person has a unique and individual map, which represents one’s perception of reality. We have built our maps by using both our personal experiences and experiences from others. Since reality has far too much detail for us to process, we need to somehow filter that information. We do this in mainly three ways; by deleting, distorting and generalizing information. The fact that we filter reality differently explains how we can see the same events in such differing ways.

If we are ideologically opposed on an issue when speaking to each other, facts, logic and reason will not work. It doesn’t matter how convincing our arguments are. They will be simply filtered out.

When we know the five basic rules of propaganda, we can more easily detect when they are being used. It is likely that you are experiencing propaganda when; you are expected to be either for or against something, derogatory expressions are used, prejudice and bias are involved, an idea that everyone agrees is promoted, and the repetition of a uniform message is noticeable.

Start from the common ground truths upon which you can agree on, when trying to reach others. If we trumpet higher-level truths from our top floor, it will be difficult for those on the ground floor to comprehend and absorb our information. Without them comprehending common ground truths, the higher level information becomes difficult to relate to and understand.

For reaching others all the way it is important to first orient yourself onto the same side and find common ground with them. Once there, we can begin to explore and understand each other’s maps. With that understanding, we can look for opinions and beliefs that we have in common and that we can agree upon, and from there try to seek together for the common truth.


  1. Reaching People,
  2. What is the average marketing budget by industry, Shepetyuk, average-marketing-budget-different-business-areas/
  3. Pfizer Spending Twice As Much On Selling Than Research?, Forbes, 2019,
  4. Europe: A History, Davies, 1996,
  5. Scam doctors and health gurus make money on Corona, Expressen, 2020-03-21,
  6. Event 201, a high-level pandemic exercise, 2019-10-18, New York, Johns Hopkins center for health security,
  7. In October 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center, along with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, jointly organized Event 201—a comprehensive pandemic exercise that specifically simulated the spread of a coronavirus. The fact that the exercise was held just months before the first reports of the spread of infection in China, and the exercise scenario’s striking similarities to what was to come, has given rise to many speculations about the actual role of actors in the corona crisis.

The material has been developed by Us together in collaboration with Reaching People.

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