I have a golf ball in my truck.
Perhaps to most observers, seeing a golf ball in my vehicle would lead them to conclude that I play golf.
The truth: I am really, really bad at golf. You've seen those YouTube videos of the ball staying securely on the tee while the club flies out of the player's hands and into the water hazard.
Yeah, that's me.
What actually happened: I was with a friend, surveying extensive tree removal that took place around his property. He found the golf ball among the flotsam left behind by the arborists who took the trees. He picked up the ball, handed it to me, and I put it in my truck. I don't even know why I kept it.
The more experience we have, the faster our brains process everyday experiences and make sense of them in a mostly automatic way. You can show a child a small handful of cat pictures and they'll be able to recognize any cat, even one drawn obscurely. Our brains are incredible that way.
The automatic assumptions we make about the world shape our reactions to new experiences and new decisions to be made. These assumptions can be stepping stones or stumbling blocks to progress:
- stepping stones when they help us make intuitive leaps to deeper understanding and wisdom
- stumbling blocks when they create cognitive biases and traditions that we have difficulty letting go of.
On a societal level, there's a growing division among those who hang, sometimes blindly, onto tradition and those who question their assumptions. Bigotry, prejudice, and myriad -isms exist because people believe they are right because of tradition and not because of truth. It's the danger of the fixed mindset.
Isaac Asimov, on the subject of people with fixed mindsets, said:
"They won't listen. Do you know why? Because they have certain fixed notions about the past. Any change would be blasphemy in their eyes, even if it were the truth. They don't want the truth; they want their traditions (emphasis added)."
In the words of despair.com: "Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid."
What do we do about it?
In order to make sense of the world around us, our brains have to make assumptions. They take in a ton of sensory input and make assessments without the need for us to consciously consider everything. If that were the case, it would be impossible for just about everyone to safely operate a vehicle or competently use a golf club.
However, circumstances arise almost daily that require us to stop and really think about prior assumptions. Those circumstances often arise in situations involving other people.
When those circumstances arise, 3 simple questions will help you begin the process of questioning and, if necessary, updating (or throwing out) old assumptions:
- What do I believe is true about this circumstance / thought?
- Is this necessarily true anymore? (A companion question: was it ever true?)
- If #2 is yes, what information do I have that confirms my assumption is true?
Answering these questions may require a somewhat scientific approach of developing experiments to challenge our own assumptions.
Until it's not, holding onto tradition is easier that accepting truths that challenge our assumptions. You might even say it can be scary. However, letting go of erroneous assumptions is not only liberating for you but has the potential to make life easier for someone else, particularly those in marginalized groups who are only there because of previously-held misconceptions and incorrect biases.
As my wife would say, "stop, challenge, and choose." Those are key elements to rejecting old assumptions that no longer serve us and may no longer even be true.
Thanks for reading!
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