“We’re all fools,” said Clemens, “all the time. It’s just we’re a different kind each day. We think, I’m not a fool today. I’ve learned my lesson. I was a fool yesterday but not this morning. Then tomorrow we find out that, yes, we were a fool today too. I think the only way we can grow and get on in this world is to accept the fact that we’re not perfect and live accordingly.”
Ray Bradbury, “The Illustrated Man”
This quote struck a chord with me immediately upon reading it. I’ve remarked several times on this blog (and oh so many times in conversations) about just how irrational and (more dangerously) ignorant we humans are. We believe we knew what was coming all along, seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs, and dismiss or discount information which challenges them.
I’m certainly no exception. Despite my awareness of these things, I often find myself falling into their traps. Just the other day, for example, I fell prey to a clever use of the default effect while attempting to unsubscribe myself from a mailing list. After clicking the “unsubscribe” link in the e-mail, I was brought to a page where there was some text along with a series of check boxes. In many cases, one checks the items one wants to unsubscribe from, and submits the form. Since I saw the boxes were already selected, I hurriedly clicked the submit button and went on my way. Naturally I was shocked to find more e-mail from the sender in my inbox the next day. Upon returning and closer inspection of the opt-out form, I found that in fact I needed to un-check the boxes for the lists I no longer wanted to receive. Read the fabulous… oh you get the idea.
I’m fond of saying “I’m just as much of an idiot as everyone else, I just readily admit it.” Even with this awareness, however, my ability to invoke reason and logic is limited. And so, as Bradbury’s character suggests, I live accordingly. Or, at least I try. I keep sweets from easy access in the cupboards, I make it a point to listen to the opinions of those I heartily disagree with, and I try and limit the decisions I make on a daily basis. I frequently get “sanity checks” from those around me and, despite the uncomfortable feeling it brings on, welcome challenges to my thinking.
If we are going to overcome our shortcomings as humans, the first step is awareness. That’s one of the main reasons I write about things like cognitive biases or how preconceived notions can hurt us in our daily lives. Writing about these things helps keep them in the front of my mind, while helping me to connect related information together. Keeping the our emotional irrational nature in check is a difficult task, but one we must engage in every day, and do so intentionally.
Every day, look youself in the mirror, and remind yourself (in the words of author David McRaney(aff link)), “You are not so smart.”