Are There Any Absolutes?
If you had asked me that question yesterday, I might have said yes. After all there is “the real world,” morals and ethics, the laws of physics and more. One absolute that I had never thought about before was “F” The mark you get when you do badly. Now, everything has changed.
I was getting our dog ready for a walk and happened to see a few seconds of Huckabee as I walked by the den. The question that three panelists were answering, “How did president Obama do this week?” Answer from Panelist 1 “?” Panelist 2 “F” Panelist 3 “F-”
What is F minus about? It appears there is comparative failure. I thought F was an absolute but apparently not. Once you start to think about the absence of absolutes a lot appears.
Albert Einstein “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.”
No reality, either! What does it all mean? I don’t really know yet, but here are some impressions.
- We all make our own reality. In past articles I have talked about Belief Derived Reality. Some kind of internal reality. Our reality is consistent with what we believe. Everything we do will relate to that version of reality and our version of reality will be an illusion, despite its internal consistency. There need not be any connection to anything external.
- We can get closer to external reality, we must be open-minded and vigilant. Curious and exploring. Once you know that your reality is an illusion it gets easier to accept new ideas. Start by challenging your own. Most will remain. Learn from mistakes. Change as needed
- We must be a little critical. Critical thinking is an acquired skill. Critical thinking and its first cousin skepticism are becoming more important. If you do not wish to be spun you need to have enough knowledge and skill to notice the process. Especially statistics.
- Be kind. Other people are living in their own reality. People act consistently with their reality framework. Even people who have lives that are “wrong” are doing their best, given their reality. Acknowledge the effort. Cut people some slack.
- You probably cannot trust what you believe. You need to challenge it in the context of what you are trying to achieve. All of your strategic goals are closely related to what you value and all of what you value is closely related to what you believe. Work backwards from your goals to see how many are consistent with what you need.
- Value flexibility. Maybe you are wrong. Prebuild options in case things turn out differently.
- We need to work on it. All of us. All the time. Our youngest did her PhD thesis on acculturation. How an immigrant fits in. What they retain, what they give up, what they fear, what they cannot understand. How they find and assimilate the new rules. We need to work on it because we all experience an analog of immigration. Not necessarily to a new place but to a new time. I doubt a person arrived from Singapore is more disconnected from their former external reality than I am from my external reality of 40 years ago.
Physicist Richard Feynman has an interesting first principle. “You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Vigilance, curiosity, exploring, learning from mistakes, persistence, clear goals and flexibility give you a hope of success.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.
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