March 2018

Look before you believe

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Andy Sauer

Andy Sauer

I was talking to a friend about a recent event. How could this happen? Are people blind? No, I answered, the problem is people have outsourced their thinking to others — what marketing types call “opinion leaders.” Something comes up, and people give themselves minutes, maybe seconds, to focus on a complex issue. They’re briefed by that trusted opinion leader and accept what they hear, because they’re busy. “Just tell me what I need to know.”

A complicated phenomenon is reduced to at best a theory (at worst, a lie) and the time-pressed person accepts it as fact. Compounding the problem is that people gravitate towards like-minded people, so the theory bounces around in an echo chamber lending it credibility, because that voice in the echo chamber always sounds so familiar. The theory becomes a belief buttressed by a community conviction, making it indefatigably “true.”

Thus, the busy person has surrendered independent thought.

I’m going to give you a benign example:

Back in 2003, the sequel to the groundbreaking science fiction flick “The Matrix” was eagerly anticipated. I don’t get to go to the movies often, and I have to pick my films very carefully. When “The Matrix Reloaded” hit theaters, I sought feedback from friends. They told me not to bother with it. In fact, such was the conventional antipathy for it, that I dismissed it from consideration for even a rental. It wasn’t until I saw a copy of it for sale for 50 cents that I decided to give it a chance. You know, I liked it. In fact, I found it to be on par with the vaunted original. To this day, I am baffled by the visceral reaction against it. I think conventional wisdom in 2003 decreed the movie a disappointment, and that made it “true.” But, it wasn’t.

OK, so that’s a movie, something of little consequence. What about something important? Doesn’t that deserve a little more deliberate thought than a few minutes in the echo chamber?

The writer Tom Nichols in The Death of Expertise,” advocates, among other things, to seek out opinions contrary to your own and consider the arguments. Listen or, better yet, read another point of view, think about it and make up your own mind.

Now, I get it, you’re busy. You can’t research every issue. How about this then: You don’t have to “believe” in everything. Pick your convictions a little more carefully and put in more time in developing them.

You might find it a more effective way in changing the world.

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