BS Detectors Up!

Come with me now into the heart of the pulsing confusion that passes for reality. There we find all of the experiences that register as real and meaningful. We also register that which we call phantom and fanciful. It is a cauldron of real and not real, possible and not possible, and what we determine to be reality and the other. It’s the other on which we are focusing.

We know that our experience goes beyond what we know to be real and meaningful. It is the realm of the other. But how do we distinguish and what are the distinctions?

We want to believe that the real is that which we see but we nonetheless invasion that which we know to be of the other.

We want to believe what we hear and don’t want our ears to mislead; but even so, we hear sounds and voices that can only be from the other.

The other appears to us and intrudes as sound, but still we believe in the real but not the other.

The other may come to us through taste, touch, or smell, but we still persist in believing that we can know it is of the other and not of reality.

We like to conclude that real is what our senses tell us is real, but experience tells us that our senses provide a somewhat imperfect set of instruments for knowing the real from the other. We know that it is far from axiomatic that seeing is believing just as belief cannot be firmly based on hearing, touching, tasting, or smelling. If we are to know the real from the other, our sensory instrumentation is necessary but not sufficient.

Then what is the non-sensory capacity that supplements and corrects the reality distortion that would come through exclusive reliance on our senses? Here is where experience mediated by judgment and intelligence can serve us, can prevent most if not all false positives and false negatives. This internal capacity has the potential to protect us from the mistakes of our senses, protect us from believing that things are real which are not, thinking that things are illusions that are in fact real.

This capacity is no more useful than when we need to distinguish between truthful and valid news and information on the one hand and fake news and misinformation on the other hand. It is for each of us our built-in BS detector. This BS detector is there for each of us but frequently ignored and even more often just turned off.

What to do? Be sure that your BS detector is turned on and working correctly. Once you have assured that your BS detector is fully operative, run everything you see and hear through your personal BS detector before ever considering anything to be true or real. This starts with being skeptical with respect to anything important that you hear or are told, no matter who tells you. Other than your close friends and family, don’t believe anything you are told until you have thoughtfully run it past your personal BS detector; and even friends and family may be misrepresenting reality or distorting the truth, so beware.

Here is the conclusion. Since much of what we hear and are told is BS, simply assume that anything you hear or are told may be BS. So, keep your BS detector in front of you at all times, scanning and assessing the flow of news and information coming your way. It is the least you should do and, when you get down to it, it is the only protection we have from lies and damn lies that seek to overwhelm us.

Greatest Leadership Principles

ockell, Leslie and Adrienne Avila. The 100 Greatest Leadership Principles of all Time. New York: Warner Business Books, 2007.

Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline.

A leader is one who sees more than others see, who sees farther than others see, and who sees before others see. – Leroy Eimes

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I.” And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don’t think “I.” They think “we”; they think “team.” They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’ sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit … This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done. – Peter F. Drucker

A leader leads by example, whether he intends to or not. – Anonymous

Nobody rises to low expectations. – Calvin Lloyd

A community is like a ship: Everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. – Henrik Ibsen.

A Nation of Suckers

In these days of fake news and intentional misinformation, it’s easy to wonder if anything we read or hear is true. Maybe even more alarming is our inability to know who to believe, who to trust. And of course, that is the point of fake news and misinformation. The goal is not so much to get us to believe false this or untrue that as it is to fuel mistrust and doubt: mistrust of our political leaders and doubt about the intentions and motivations that underpin our government and institutions.

In The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, Carl Sagan was definitely on point when he counseled, “Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication and courage. But if we don’t practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us — and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along.”

It’s harsh but certainly self-evident that “If you don’t control your mind, someone else will.” John Allston points out the obvious, but it has gotten to where even the obvious is suspect. In testimony to this sad state of affairs, William Safire advises, “Never assume the obvious is true.” At the extreme, we get to where we mistrust what we hear, what we see, what we think; and if the insidious erosion of trust persists, we come to distrust our personal judgment and our self-confidence falters.

There is an antidote for this insidious erosion of trust, but I doubt that many would think it is an easy medicine to swallow. The first dose is to give up our reliance on group-think. “Don’t think you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path.” I don’t know who said that first and doubt that it matters much. The value is in being reminded that we are responsible for what we think, what we believe, and just because lots of well-meaning folks have signed onto the trip does not make it okay for us to thoughtlessly follow. Anatole France assures us that “If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” It’s also true that if fifty million people think or do a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. It’s up to us to guard against being just another one of the fools.

The second dose serving as an antidote for this insidious erosion of trust is to give up on our habitual reliance on simply accepting the perspectives, views and opinions of people with the loudest voices or the most followers. Let it suffice to remind us of Buddha’s advice, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it — even if I have said it — unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

The third dose is perhaps the hardest to swallow. Grace Hopper argued that “The most damaging phrase in the language is, it’s always been done that way.” Variations on the point are mental crutches such as “I’ve always thought…,” or “I’ve always believed…, ” or “Everyone knows….” The notion is that once I think or believe anything, that’s the way it is forever.

Granted, it’s being consistent; but as Bernard Berenson cautioned, “Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.” Or perhaps you prefer George Bernard Shaw’s take, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Even so, Glen Beaman has a point, “Stubbornness does have its helpful features. You always know what you are going to be thinking tomorrow.” Unless you are content being pulled along by others, there is nothing for it but to take your medicine – all three doses – the only antidote to insidious group-think.

Give In or Dig In

You’ve probably heard the advice that tells us that we have to go along to get along. Much of the time, if it’s not altogether true, it’s at least convenient. Christopher Morley puts it like this, “Lots of times you have to pretend to join a parade in which you’re not really interested in order to get where you’re going.”

We have our individual goals and agenda, but much of the time, prioritizing our personal interests requires too much effort or may actually be counterproductive. Michael Korda is on point when he advises, “The fastest way to succeed is to look as if you’re playing by other people’s rules, while quietly playing by your own.”

The truth here notwithstanding, there is a very real danger. On the one hand, we run the risk of becoming so accustomed to fitting in that we passively subordinate our goals and agenda to the will and wishes of others; or on the other hand, we are so intent on guarding our individuality that we become inappropriately rigid and inflexible. Finding the middle ground is difficult and staying on that middle ground is even more challenging.

Bill Veeck tells us what is needed, “I try not to break the rules, but merely to test their elasticity.” Nonetheless, for most of us, the trip from knowing to doing is frequently less than smooth. At this point, I think most of us either give up and go along or dig in and side with Bill Watterson’s choice, “From now on, I’ll connect the dots my own way.” As tempting as either alternative may be, experience tells me that the middle ground is still the place to be.

How do you think this works as a helpful way of understanding the middle ground between giving in and digging in? “I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine.” Fritz Perls’ perspective on the middle ground is one that I personally find helpful. I’m comfortable going along so long as I experience other people’s expectations as compatible with or at least not incompatible with mine. However, if I experience those expectations as incompatible, passively going along is no longer an option for me.

Saying this is easy but deciding to dig in and then doing it is not always easy and can be downright risky at times. Dr. SunWolf knows the truth of it, “Sooner or later, you will need the courage to be disliked,” or perhaps the courage to accept even more harsh consequences. There is a cost to giving in and going along, but perhaps an even higher cost to digging in. The dilemma is in understanding the cost and benefits of both choices and then living with your choice.

Just File Your Mistakes

There is a popular notion that advises that we can’t succeed without first failing. The idea is that we fail forward to success. There are other variations such as we learn best from our mistakes and this sweeping generalization from Herman Melville, “Failure is the true test of greatness.”

Since notions like “failure is a prerequisite to success” or “mistakes are prelude to positive outcomes” strike me as absurd, I think I will turn to Buddha for guidance. “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it — even if I have said it — unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” If you are reluctant to take this contrary thinking trip with me, let me remind you of Bertrand Russell’s take on contrary thinking. “In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” Or perhaps this from J K Galbraith, “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.”

Sure, I’ve made my share of mistakes and there have been a few times when “failure” is a fair characterization of an unwanted outcome. That likely doesn’t distinguish me from you or anyone else. But that is not the question here. The question is whether the mistakes and occasional failure were necessary pre-conditions to my subsequent success.

It may help to make what I think is an important clarification. A mistake is an action or set of actions that get an outcome different than expected. In turn, a failure is nothing more than a mistake that has unwanted consequences that persist. It’s a continuum from trying something that doesn’t work to trying something that results in a persistent mess. Where along the way you choose to designate the outcome as failure is your call. The point is that mistakes are nothing special or unusual; nor is occasional failure. The only real difference is that failure usually designates the point on the continuum where you stop trying.

Here is the conclusion I draw. Mistakes are likely inevitable, but I have no reason to think they are either necessary or useful. Better would be to get it right the first time, every time. For me, this is obvious. My experience teaches me that the mistakes I have made have little value other than to be put into the folder where I file mistakes under “things to avoid in the future.” In this case, I do subscribe to the old wisdom that teaches, “If I keep doing things like I’ve always done them, what I’ll get is what I’ve already got: mistakes.” Thus, mistakes are to be remembered only as a reminder not to repeat them.