A curation of thoughts

The Underneathness tries to share intelligent, fresh perspectives on what shapes us and our world.

I’ve put together a curation of pieces my readers have loved most and you can download it here.

The Underneathness – a curation of thoughts

 

We are shaped by the unseen

You see, the strangeness of my case is that now I no longer fear the invisible, I’m terrified by reality. Jean Lorrain

We assume our reality –

  1. Is reality
  2. Is right.

But we have access to only the tiniest amount of information that’s out there, whether in the electromagnetic spectrum or conscious brain.

This means that our reality –

  1. Is a reality (one of many)
  2. Is shaped by limited information.

Despite this, we are happy to stake a claim to being right and dismiss others’ experiences as inferior or wrong.

It does a lot of damage. People go to war over it.

Instead, being open to different realities enables us to pool information, articulate a view and consider other options without needing to narrow every discussion down to ‘a winner’.

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Pure rationality is a myth we should not aspire to

I think it would be very foolish not to take the irrational seriously. Jeanette Winterson

 

Be rational, people say as if –

  1. It’s (fully) possible
  2. The counterpart is unhealthy.

In reality –

  1. We all behave on a continuum from rational to irrational
  2. Those who put irrationality down are just as susceptible to it as those they criticise
  3. Knowing we are irrational will not stop us being irrational
  4. Rationality is not good or bad, nor is irrationality.

None of this absolves us from responsibility for our decisions or suggests we can’t improve awareness or emotional IQ. But it does challenge the idea that rationality is an endpoint or that rational thinking leads to rational or desirable behaviour.

Why the focus on rationality?

There are many reasons we elevate rationality, including – (more…)

 

The benefits & limits of attention & evidence

These seemingly contradictory, yet complementary insights may be of value –

  1. Pay no attention to what people say; but pay close attention to what people say.
  2. Focus on evidence; but don’t let evidence narrow your focus.

Attention

Pay no attention to what people say (when it contradicts what they do)

It’s easy to say – I am honest, I am good, I have values. In fact, it’s easy to say anything – just open your mouth. Doing so is a different ballgame but if you want to know who someone is, take a look.

For example –

  1. You can’t say you are loyal but have affairs, unless you have an explicit agreement with your partner that ‘loyalty’ includes having sex with other people. You can’t redefine what sex (or commitment or partnership or marriage for that matter) means for the purpose of squeezing yourself back into the loyal box. A one-night stand is still sex. An intermittent but ongoing romp with an old friend is still sex. Orchestrating a weekend away with a colleague even if both parties are married just for sex, is sex. Sex as a transaction is sex. If there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing in your mind, tell your partner so that they have information and can make an adult choice about whether they’re happy with that in their mind too. Otherwise call it what it is. Is it loyal? No it is disloyal. You can apply this to any quality you ascribe to yourself or others.
  2. You can’t claim to be trustworthy if on Monday you’re lobbying for better treatment of women but on Tuesday diminish working women as selfish and self-centred, argue human rights Wednesday but whip up the troops around anti-Semitism (add in any issue you like here) the next. Who is this person? No one knows. We can change our minds about what we believe over time but that’s not what chameleons are about. What else do they say that has no bearing on the way they live? Look at what you say and ask yourself – do you live by it? If not, why say it at all?

It may seem overly obvious to say these things but it is the primary human instinct to trust other people. Most of us believe what people say about who they are and it’s hard to shake early impressions, positive or negative. This is what makes political leanings or emotional beliefs about the existence of loaded beliefs like climate change so difficult to shift.

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Why rebellion can look just like conformity

It’s absurd to me that someone would vote a certain way because their parents did; but no less that they would only vote contrary to them (extrapolate broadly).

When the impetus for decision-making is based on pushing against something for the sake of it, conformity and rebellion look remarkably alike.

This pattern works its way out differently – parents give way to friends, bosses, or even ideas but we still have:

  1. The desire to differentiate ourselves; and
  2. The desire to belong.

Although this may be in sharper focus during certain developmental phases (the famed teenage years) the process continues through life.

It goes without saying that something isn’t true just because someone tells us it is, even if we love and respect that person. This is regardless of whether it’s a fact or set of values.

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Avoiding groupthink

How many people do you know who can –

  1. Identify the biases they bring to the table and understand how they can be used (for good or bad)?
  2. Listen to and respect all views while recognising ideas are not equal?
  3. Bring others along but not at the cost of sound decision-making, even when that means standing alone?
  4. Encourage a style of dissent that does not veer to chaos or produce fake consent?

Coherence is so strongly associated with survival and its value so deeply embedded in management practice that we would rather deal with the future consequences of a bad decision than the discomfort of going against the group here and now.

This is called groupthink and it’s what happens when members of any in-group try to minimise conflict by agreeing to something without critically evaluating alternatives.Disagreement is often perceived as disloyalty, rather than as a path to better decision-making.

Groupthink has been implicated in many disasters, from the Bay of Pigs to the GFC. What has emerged in much of the research that follows these events is that many people had doubts about what was happening but did not speak out, sometimes to remain ‘in’ but also because of an understandable concern they might lose their jobs.

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4 tips for being a ‘learner’ not a ‘mistake-avoider’

We learn by failing, iff failing means not getting things right all of the time.

Whether it’s those first steps, our running style or scientific discoveries that come only after trials are ditched and techniques refined, learning is process.

We are not built for perfection.

Experiments have conclusively shown that we are hard-wired to think in ways that may help us survive, but are innately flawed and that we shape realities on shaky foundations and false evidence as visual illusions show.

Even where there are no apparent flaws, we are born into cultures that define value relative to colour, creed and sex (to name but a few) and so a healthy, thinking wo/man can as easily become an enemy of the state if the circumstances allow.

So why I ask myself, has perfection become an acceptable goal? And why do we let it define our value?

We want the perfect body, partner, boss or job, a Vogue house, ideal parents, faultless kids, it seems there’s no end to our list (or lust) to achieve it.

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