A sad observation…

Note…this post may come perilously close to being political, but I am not backing any party or candidate; nor is it intended to be on any particular side of any known political issue. As Tree Beard said, “Side? I’m not on anyone’s side because no one is on my side.” As usual this post is about making choices, learning and being/thinking/doing the best you as an individual can.

At lunch lately I’ve been watching a lot of Peoples court, and because my wife is on summer hours and getting home early we’ve been watching Judge Judy. Last night my wife made the comment that “I think these people are getting stupider” referring to the litigants. Sadly I have to agree.

This observation has nothing to do with physiological or psychological damage or defect. People are just as capable of thinking and behaving well as they used to be. Maybe more so if you take into account the increase in information available to people these days (what with that ‘interweb’ thing and all…). I am referring to a definition of stupid a very smart man gave me many years ago…Stupid meaning willfully ignorant. I think this has been happening for a number of reasons. Three main ones (the one’s I’m going to talk about at least) are education, laziness, and confirmatory bias.

Education

(This is an area that inherently does get political… so step carefully) There has been a push for a number of years to try to cram “facts” into peoples heads. Unfortunately, a casualty of this push has been teaching how to use those facts.

Right now we are in a world that’s awash with information. You can look things up on your pc, tv, tablet, phone or (god help us all) in a book or magazine. This is good because we have more information available than ever before. Unfortunately having more information means we have to be more proficient and efficient in using that information. People need to learn to think, analyze and make decisions. Just reading and accepting the first internet head line or blog post you run into is a bad idea (even if it’s mine!). People need to learn to evaluate and decide, not just be told.

I think people aren’t learning how to use information well. Without the right skills using information well isn’t easy. So, people choose not to try…

Lazyness

In fairness people may feel overwhelmed with the amount of information out there (which is why we need to teach them how to use it…). This, along with time pressure, a human desire to do things the ‘easy way’ and other factors lead people to just ‘grab and go’ with their information. They read a headline or abstract and react without digging deeper. They hear a sound bite and react without understanding the context. One problem with this is that surface information is easy to manipulate. Also, even simple things are never as simple as people want to think. You have to understand even simple things in context.

When we dig deeper we may learn things that change what we think, feel and/or believe. We can find more information that helps us make better decisions. This can be a valuable thing, but it takes effort.

Unfortunately, a lot of people today don’t value good information, or they make a surface assessment and miss the value of something being presented to them. So, they don’t put the effort into getting good information. They put that effort into something they value more (which would be a good thing, except, have you seen some of the things people will put effort into?). We need to learn to value information. We also need to learn to be selective about the information we choose to listen to and be conscious and purposeful in how we select that information.

Confirmatory bias.

Confirmatory bias is a natural process of the human mind, and a can be a form of laziness. It is also something that can get you into a lot of trouble if you’re not aware of it.

Confirmatory bias means that you selectively choose the information that supports the opinion that you’ve already formed and reject contrary information. This can get you into a lot of trouble if you choose to accept the directions from your navigation system and ignore the fact that the bridge right in front of you is washed out!

Confirmatory bias is also dangerous in less obvious situations. People may choose to just read the articles and watch the stories that they know come from ‘their side’. This does simplify choosing information and reduces necessary effort, but it makes for really poor decision making (especially when the sources on ‘your side’ start making statements like all “Xs are Ys” or “We must protect the theory at all costs!”).

The reality is you don’t need to be afraid of information from any side. If you have the truth on your side, and you learn to make good evaluations and choices on information, then you can look at the information from any side and pick out the valid parts (not necessarily ‘good’ (if you’re just picking out the ‘good’ parts you may be driving off that washed out bridge…)).

The take home message

For those of you who may have missed it… Don’t be stupid, meaning don’t be willfully ignorant. Learn to use information well. Put your energy into getting valid and accurate information and making informed decisions with it. Don’t just accept information from one side. If you take the time to learn and think you can make good decisions for yourself.

For those of us who are people of faith (and anyone else willing to listen)… God has faith in your ability to make decisions, that’s part of his gift to us and part of why we’re here. The God I know doesn’t ask us to put blind faith in anyone or anything (Faith yes. Blind faith no.)

For everyone… I’d much rather you trust your own decision making ability than some politician with an agenda!

Well this is it for today dear reader. Hopefully not too much of a rant.

Till next time… Learn well and choose well!

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