Faith and The Universal Yes Man

Faith is a wonderful and a terrible thing, and unfortunately I think it might be at the root of many of the problems plaguing our society today.

I’m not talking about religion, well  not exclusively about religion. To me faith is any complete and unquestioning belief in a person, or an idea, or an institution, or an information source that allows no deviation from the message.

The way I see it, having faith is a necessity. It’s the foundation on which we build our lives. We need trusted sources of information. These might be holy books, or pundits, or authors, or researchers, or professors, or online communities. For most of us, it’s several of these in combination.

These information streams become heuristics for living our lives. They shape our self-images. They provide stability, and certainty, and a starting point for our dreams and plans. Our sources may differ, but we all have these core information streams that guide us.

But faith in these streams also creates problems. See faith cannot coexist with logic. When a debated question comes down to diametrically opposed facts, the only way to settle the point is for one side to agree that their trusted source is wrong. The fall back position becomes “I don’t believe that”. All evidence is useless in the face of a failure to accept the validity of the opposing source’s facts and when that happens the discussion is over. These sorts of justifications were common in the recent (2016) US Presidential election for both the candidates and the voters.

The problem that arises is that sometimes our faith really is misplaced.

 

People are wrong. Some sources have their own agendas. Sometimes they only have part of the picture and are making incorrect inferences from that incomplete information. Sometimes facts are colored by personal experience and perspective. Any of these can lead those who follow them astray.

Of course none of this is new. As long as there has been a human race, there have been irreconcilable questions of faith. What is new is that we have a massive justification engine (Google) always within reach.

In a few clicks  support can be found for any position one might take. In a few more you can find just as many sites backing an opposing one. Doubt is universal, and so the question again becomes one of faith, not facts. You choose which source to believe and you move forward.

Complicating this is ego. In our newly interconnected world, our beliefs are often on display. With every share, and every like, and every accepted friend request, we’re aligning ourselves behind our chosen sources. We’re also building a complex network of very visible alliances.

Inevitably, those people and causes with whom we are aligned diverge from our personal beliefs. It’s just not very likely that we’ll continuously agree in all respects with another human being, or with a movement composed of them. Usually it’s in small ways at first, but eventually some of  those divides can become significant. When that happens, our ego is a barrier to changing direction.

We all hate to publicly admit we were wrong.

In the past the audience for such a reversal was limited, and the ego barrier was small. Today that’s different. The most recent number I could find for the average number of Facebook friends was 338 (the median was 200) in 2014. I think it’s a safe assumption that that number is much higher two years later. Friend lists tend to be mostly family and well… friends, i.e. people like us. That’s a lot of people to disappoint.

When that moment arrives, it is far easier, for some, to consult Google, or as I call it, the universal yes-man. It takes a lot more self-confidence to endure the displeasure of your friend list. Certainly this isn’t the case for everyone, but many have been conditioned by the like-engine to avoid disappointing their audience at all costs.

So where does that leave us?

In the first place, it’s important to question your faith.

I understand that it’s difficult, but if the writers and news feeds and pundits and other sources that you’ve built your foundation upon are unable to withstand scrutiny from another perspective, or if their facts are not verifiable through other sources, they are unworthy of your faith. Yes, this takes work, but isn’t it time well invested?

Second, you must understand that algorithms are not always your friends.

Search algorithms are intended to return results that are similar to things you’ve enjoyed or searched for in the past. They only want to make you happy. Unfortunately that can give you a warped view of the world if you’re not careful. By all means use Google to your advantage, but be careful to research both sides of the argument. Look at the quoted facts and trace them to their sources. Understand which sites are merely trying to drive traffic with inflammatory headlines and sensationalized perspectives. Make an informed choice.

Finally, be brave.

It may seem like you will be ridiculed, or ostracized, or heckled, or even attacked for failing to follow the party line. You may be called a flip-flopper or a fence-sitter or something even worse. The thing is, none of that matters. The people who are worth being around will respect you for your courage and will understand your dissent. As I said earlier, no one completely agrees with every aspect of the party line. Whether the subject is politics, or religion, or nutrition, or education, each true opinion is as unique as a snowflake. Own yours and the honest people will respect that.

 

Killing My Zombies – The First Battle in a War on Mindless Habits

For the past few years I’ve been working toward living a more deliberate life. I want to do things on purpose. I want to identify the behaviors that I’ve put on automatic pilot and question them. This process lead to an unexpected change in direction that I thought I’d share.

I followed a very strict diet for all of October 2015. One of the things it didn’t allow was alcohol.  Others who’d followed the same diet told me that the first thing they did at the end of the thirty days was crack open a cold beer. When I got to the end of my thirty days I noticed something. I didn’t miss drinking.

That sparked a question: Why was alcohol even a part of my life? Surely I had a good answer.

The first justification that came to mind was that I drank to relax. We all do that right? You have a hard day and you just want to have a drink and unwind. But that made no sense. I’m a pretty relaxed guy. A lot of days I came home and really wasn’t all that stressed, but I still cracked open a hard cider as soon as I hit the door.

Next I tried to tell myself that it eased my tension in social situations. I clearly remember a time that I told Pam Slim how it had been necessary to have a few drinks at the closing party of World Domination Summit so I could dance without feeling self-conscious. Looking back that said a lot more about my insecurity than about my need for alcohol. Shouldn’t I just work on my confidence? Shouldn’t dancing be something I enjoy? Something free and spontaneous and fun?

The more I thought about the question the less I could justify the last 20 years of expense and risk and occasional bad choices.

Did I enjoy craft beers because I liked the taste? Or was it because they’re cool and it’s nice to be an expert in something so complex and specialized?

Did I enjoy having drinks with friends and coworkers because of the relaxed good times? Or was it because we just happened to see drinking as an integral component of getting together?

Does wine really have health benefits? Or is that just a very well placed study that  justifies having a glass or two with dinner on a regular basis?

Dissatisfied with all of those answers, I looked into my past to understand when the habit of drinking entered my life.

When I was younger, drinking was a novelty. In those days everything was better when you were a little buzzed. Bowling, pool, fishing, float trips, the beach, camping, the movies, golf, concerts, ball games, pretty much anything.

Had alcohol really made those things better? It seemed more likely that it was a fiction built in the days when alcohol was a forbidden fruit. I’ve since enjoyed many of them sober and have had as much, or more, fun.

As the years passed it seemed that drinking was a habit that my mind paired with certain situations. Stuck in an airport? Have a beer to pass the time. Meeting friends for dinner? Buy a round for the table. If I went to a work function or a training course and there was an open bar, it felt like I was almost required to have a drink or three.

I began to remember times when I really didn’t like the choices offered at events, but I still took something. I remember resolving to just drink water and then succumbing to the widened eyes, or the good natured ribbing of friends.

I even had a text conversation with someone about the awkwardness of being the one not drinking in a typical drinking situation. We ended updeciding that the strategy of pleading that I was training for some event ( I usually am) was a good means to dispel the tension.

After thinking through all of that I made a decision. I no longer enjoyed drinking and I couldn’t find any good reasons to continue, therefore I should stop. No more excuses, no more trying to fit in.

It’s been a year now and I have a few things to report.

First, I ended up having four beers and three ciders in the course of the year. I have to admit that three of the beers were a function of me not wanting to just throw away something we’d paid good money for (I bought them for Crystal). Two of the ciders I drank on New Year’s Eve to celebrate making it through the year with minimal drinking (Ironic I know).

There were a few things I learned along the way as well.

  1. I am spending less money.

    Even at the low end of the scale, a six pack a week, the total comes out to $32 a month. That is more than the cost of a gym membership, more than basic cable TV. Nearly as much as we pay for our high speed internet service. And there were certainly weeks in my past that went far beyond six drinks. When we eat out, the bill is 20%-30% less than before, since I’m not ordering from the bar. This was a totally unlooked for benefit.

  2. I never have to worry about anything when driving home.

    Whether I’m headed home from dinner with the family or making the long trek  back from a football game, that nagging worry in the back of my mind that I might be impaired, even though I believe that I am fine, is simply gone. I also never have to cringe when I see the silhouette of a spotlight on the driver’s side of a Dodge Charger after I’ve had a couple of beers.

  3. The morning after is never a problem.

    Though I’m far removed from the days of trying to reconstruct details of the night before, I still had days when my mornings were significantly affected by overindulgence. Now that’s a thing of the past.

  4. Our recycling burden is significantly reduced.

    Before this change, there were many weeks when the bottles overflowed the sides of the bin where we store them before dropping them off. Now most of what we have is plastic and paper.

You may be asking “Yeah, but what about the downside?”

There’s been some suffering through knowing smiles of those expecting me to regress when I told them I wasn’t drinking anymore. And I have to say that the closing party at World Domination Summit was not nearly as enjoyable this year. Apparently I am still not comfortable dancing unless I have had a little liquid courage. Nothing else.

I still don’t miss it and strangely I don’t think I will. It’s hard to believe that for two decades I seem to have been engaging in a behavior that conferred no benefits and resulted in significants risks and costs.

My next adventure is breaking the habit of free food. I have a feeling this one is going to be far more difficult, which probably means it is much more necessary.

How about you? Are there things that you do out of habit that have no real logical foundation on which to stand. Are you thinking about cutting them out of your life? If so and you want an accountability partner, send me an email. I’m happy to help and I’d love to hear from you.

 

How to Know When to Step Up

I sometimes read bad fiction. I don’t really enjoy it. I get frustrated by the cliche. I feel like tearing my hair over blatant inconsistencies. I sometimes have to put the book down an take a break. So why do I put myself through all of that?

Perspective.

Seeing bad fiction flying off the shelves of bookstores was what convinced me to write and publish my first book. I knew I could do better. Maybe not sell better, not at first, but I knew that my stories were good enough to find an audience. So far its only a very small one, but they are loyal, and growing.

Finding that perspective is an all important skill. No matter what your industry, when you begin to see that the quality of other’s work in your area of expertise is below what you can provide, it is an invitation. It means that you have grown to the point that you are ready for the next challenge. That it’s time to push into the zone of discomfort and take on more responsibility. That there is a market for your talent if you take a step out into the spotlight and share your skills with the world. It’s a skill that’s at the essential to becoming an entrepreneur.

How about you? What do you see that makes you cringe? Photographs with bad lighting and poor composition? Poetry with a clumsy meter and flimsy rhymes? Trainers who fail to understand the space they need to give their students to learn the material? A boss who insists on living in a tactical world when what your department needs is a long term strategy? Every one of these implies that you are ready. That the world needs you. It’s time to step up.

 

 

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