March Notes

I turned 42 years old on March 12, 2020. The day prior was the official declaration of the pandemic. Now a year later I find myself reflecting on arguably the most unique year of my lifetime. We have all been upended to some degree. Some it has just been interesting news stories and wearing a mask on the occasional interaction with society. Some people have seen their lives absolutely derailed. As I say ad nauseum the community of America is fractured. If the people struggling are out of arms reach then they are perceived to be the enemy. I remember growing up learning about the Civil War and being baffled that people went to war against not only their countrymen, but sometimes even family and friends. I am baffled by this no longer. It still makes no sense, but I have a clear understanding of how it happened. Disagreements were had beyond the scope of the community, framed as a zero sum game of us vs. them, and loud people pointed and demanded and simple people followed. People who I am sure would much rather had competent leaders negotiate on their behalf a better resolution than standing in lines firing muskets at fellow citizens. In many ways the Civil War never ended. John Meachum makes a solid argument for this in his book The Soul of America. I cannot recommend it enough. It shows examples that we need to learn from of when our country acted its worst, with beautiful language urging us to let the “better angels of our nature” win the day. I guess “worst” is subjective because the country is still allowing awful practices to continue and we continue to be bifurcated along the exact same lines as we have since the beginning. The last 4 years saw an administration that seemed solely focused on treating America as two separate groups of citizens in competition with one another intent on seeing one side achieve victory over the other regardless of the topic at hand and who was treated as less important and who was to benefit.

We need to do better

Enough reflection for this now 43 year old. Let’s get to some more interesting stuff.

Exponential thought of the month:

I am going to try a new experiment here. I am going to walk an idea from a fixed mindset format into an exponential (a.k.a. growth mindset). My hope is that by showcasing the process I will be able to better think through my own ideas while at the same time helping any readers exercise this muscle of the mind.

{side note, the more I apply the format that has allowed me train my body effectively to improving my mind, the better my results have been. The principles of resistance training, progressive overload, and optimizing recovery are universal when attempting to stimulate an adaptive response (intentional evolution)}

Political Division is the topic I am going to walk through for our first exploration.

Those who do not know history will forever remain children.”

-Marcus Tullius Cicero

A fixed mindset looks at politics in the moment and almost exclusively interprets and processes the information from an emotional, reactive, and impulsive manner. This is what Cicero is referring to when is says “forever remain children”. They will be trapped in the cycle that those with a historical perspective can see but can rarely communicate to those still trapped inside. Whether it is the repetitive and go nowhere strategies conservatives have used to stall progress on the civil rights movement since the end of the civil war, or the catastrophizing of monetary or fiscal reform that threatens those in power based on policy and not productivity.

So what would it look like to emerge from the fixed mindset oblivious to the patterns and lessons of the past? Let me walk you through what it looked like for me. There would be times when I would occasionally conversate with people who disagreed with me. I, as with most people, almost exclusively communicated with people who either agreed with all of my impulsively accepted positions (I say this because a fixed mindset does not result in “formed” opinions, just accepted).

It took a class in college. I don’t remember the exact title but it easily could have been called “why thinking you know everything is the best proof you don’t know shit”. The biggest takeaway was the realization that when people are seeking truth they don’t argue. Almost everyone mistakes trying to vocally convince the other person that they are wrong and that we are right, for conversation.

Once you experience a transition from being in a state of “not knowing but thinking you know” to knowing that “no matter what I know, I know there is more to learn” the world transforms almost instantly. This class was my first experience in what productive conversation, and the courage to admit, accept being wrong when the evidence shows it, and altering course going forward in alignment with the new found awareness or knowledge, looked like. I had honestly never seen it before. Where does everyone get this instinct to defend positions that have not been open to debate? People’s religions and political ideology seems especially closed to compromise. I believe the problem rests with sensitive egos. But I digress.

Imagine running this experiment:

If two people were debating whether or not a law should pass there is a 99% chance that neither of them have actually read the document. If they have there would likely be terminology that was unfamiliar, and a good amount of information that goes way beyond the scope of the headlines that sparked the conversation in the first place. Here is where a critical moment often emerges. An opportunity for change. If one of the people’s argument is proven faulty by the language in the bill, what happens next? Does the person change their position? What if the conversation up until then had riled them both up? Now there is pride on the line. This scenario mirrors how almost all conversations play out, but without the advantage of both people having read, processed, and interpreted the underlying information. Almost all conversations, and even decisions, are made under some level of pressure on imperfect information.

It is never comfortable to admit being wrong, much less admitting loss of an “argument” (because we jsut cant seem to shed the social baggage that comes along with losing, or even winning, with dignity).

Great minds have flipped the script on this though. Intellectuals and scientists take pride in the transition into a more informed, and more accurate alignment with truth. Many still fall short but this is something that should be integrated into culture at large. The expectation, or even celebration of the moment where ignorance is shattered. It also has to be normalized to win arguments with dignity. We have to take pride in improving our alignment with truth, and we have to say good game and fist bump when we succesfully bring others to the light. Not overly celebrate and strike at the egos that had to be controlled while admitting defeat.

Ideally we will completely unplug or instincts to argue when we really want to debate. We have to disarm ourselves from the intent of wanting to be right and wanting the other person to be wrong from the beginning. We have to disagree better. And I can’t stomach the thought of just ignoring the people who are misaligned. We are one humanity and we are all worse off when any of us are divided. We dont all have to agree. But we have to disagree while agreeing on what we are disagreeing about and what the fundamental truths of the situation are.

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