Water is among the most essential resources on our planet. It has always been so. Next to air, there may be nothing more crucial, yet we don’t know how it came to be discovered or even noticed.
Marshall McLuhan has made a good point. “We don’t know who discovered water, but we do know it was not a fish.”
We tend to be absorbed in what we know. We tend to take a great deal of it for granted and make new facts fit.
People often attribute value to being a deep thinker, or a prized specialist. While both are valuable, they are not the right course for most of us. Specialization is narrow and deep. Specialization has its own problems. The principle one being it is very hard to see outside your specialty and as a result it is very hard to innovate within it. Specialists have a high tendency towards confirmation bias. It is the old hammers see only nails issue.
The other extreme is shallow and wide. The ability to use an observation in beekeeping to describe a problem in quantum mechanics. Shallow and wide tends to communicate better. They can find their commonality with the listener more easily.
The real question is simple. How shallow is helpful? Too shallow and no insight. Too deep and lose the ability to connect to others. How can we decide?
It is impossible to be curious and not develop some skills in the shallow and wide pool.
I tried to make a list of what interests me. I started with language. I speak English, mathematics, accounting, and a smattering of French and music. The subjects that interest me are business, finance at the enterprise level, risk, personal finance, education, physics on the quantum side, psychology, philosophy, music history, poker, golf, some team sports, politics in theory and not practice, and humour. None of my interests are deep enough to qualify as specialist. I can however carry on a conversation about orchestral arrangement and wonder if left handed people are not well served by conventional orchestra structure. I enjoy questions like, “Can a fish be angry.”
I am a believer in the idea of common sense. I have been wondering if it is just a description of one’s biases derived from experience, or is it really a thing. At the moment I think it is a bit like society in general. It is the accumulation of structures and actions that work in a particular place and time. It is not the same everywhere and it is transient.
Common sense is learnable but only with difficulty. Most of what is taught is indoctrination and denies the value of other experiences. It is best when experienced. What would you learn from studying bees compared to what would you learn from being stung? Would a Russian who experienced communism have the same view of socialism as a New York based university professor? Which would be right? Conceivably neither.
Narrow leads to hard points of view. Shallower leads to more flexible points of view. Shallow works better given the idea of transient. The Boomer way is not the only way, despite that it worked very well once. Boomers valued things. More modern generations value experiences. The old boomer t-shirt that said, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins” would be barely understood by a 20-year-old.
Younger people are more connected and they know more about other cultures and people than we ever did. We boomers tended to be deep within our perceived “best culture” because we could not easily see any other. That “The others” would eventually get it and be like us was a given. Maybe not.
We could learn about other ideas and deal with them based on evidence rather than point of view.
Marshall McLuhan again, “A point of view is not an acceptable substitute for insight and understanding.”
It amazes me how so many people believe they are right and yet can present little in the way of support for their way of thinking. What you cannot describe, you probably don’t know well enough.
Understanding is most easily found by reading or listening to people talk about things you do not agree with. If you can provide reasoned argument about what they miss or overempasize, you have a chance of understanding both their position and your own.
For example, “Is Donald Trump a bad president?”
The question has nothing to do with his character or his personailty or his style. It has to do with whether he is able to accomplish things for the good of the people. On that scoring system he seems to be quite effective. On other matters he doesn’t appear to do so well. That could be because we have never met him or interacted with him and must live vicariously through the eyes of the media.
Do people want a figurehead who in real estate agent parlance “shows well”, or do we want an executive who gets things done? Is there any value in a president being well-liked although incompetent as a leader? Would we be able to live with a benevolent robot as president?
Recent history seems to tell us that we want or at least prefer the figurehead style.
People who can understand many points of view tend to learn more easily and to be able to communicate what they know better. Read a lot, listen a lot, expose yourelf to new situations when possibile.
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