Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Difficult decisions

Life is full of decisions. Sometimes the simplest decisions are the most difficult. Why? Because they often require us to choose between a hard and easy option. Do we have that difficult conversation in person or put it in an email? Do we apologise for that drunken rant or hope it is forgotten? Do we own up to our mistake or hope the problem just goes away?

But, how often has the easy option caused more trouble further down the line? Perhaps it is best to take the difficult road earlier to avoid worsening the situation. And facing up to the challenge may strengthen your character.

When faced with a difficult choice, we should ask ourselves two questions: 

1. is it admirable or shameful to avoid the difficult option?

2. is it admirable or shameful to accept the challenge and take the harder path?

Answering these questions can guide us in the right direction. But it’s not easy. The path of least resistance beckons and is tempting. We must, at all times, ask ourselves, what sort of person do you want to be?

Saturday, March 19, 2022

People do the best they can

People don't deliberately set out to do evil. Sure, people harm each other every day. But this is generally not the result of evil intentions. Rational people don't look themselves in the mirror each day and say, "today I'm going to do evil things for evil reasons". People act for what they think are good reasons. They think their intentions are good, even though hindsight may later reveal that they got it wrong.

So when we are harmed, or simply frustrated by the actions of other people, we need to remind ourselves that they are probably doing the best they can. We all struggle through life, trying to make good decisions. But we aren't perfect. Nobody's perfect. So, we shouldn't be surprised when people make mistakes. Be patient and remember, life is difficult for them too.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

I know that I know nothing

We know so much. Whenever something happens in the world, we have opinions about it. We know where things have gone wrong. We know what is true and what is false. We know who can be trusted and who cannot. And we have solutions to it all. If only they'd listen.

When we have such knowledge, we might think there is not much more to learn. After all, we cannot learn what we already know. But perhaps there is conceit in our claim to knowledge. When we know in our hearts that our opinions are true, and that we have all the answers, we build a wall around ourselves. A wall that blocks other viewpoints. A wall that impedes learning.

Perhaps the key to wisdom is the admission that we don't know as much as we think we do. Real wisdom might sit not in our ability to strongly defend our preconceived opinions, but in our willingness to be proven wrong. This ability is not easily mastered. But if we can see the strength in admitting that our opinions may be wrong, we might find ourselves closer to achieving true wisdom.

- S

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Fact, Fiction - Surviving Social Media

What is fact? What is fiction? With the rise of social media and independent news we find it increasingly difficult to tell the difference. After all, if a report is being presented by an official looking person on an official looking website, we can be forgiven for thinking it is true. 

But often these reports are false. Many invented stories are being presented as fact these days. And it seems that people no longer need to support their claims with evidence. We just need to say "the government is corrupt" or "climate change is fake" or "the virus is not harmful" and it becomes a sort of truth. Not actual truth, of course. But a pseudo truth which is treated as actual truth by people who really want to believe it. My favorite student, Plato, warned against this type of truth relativism.

So, what can we do? How can we guard ourselves from believing false information? A simple question may help. Does our favorite news source ever report the opposite of what we think? If not, we should be wary. Whenever we find ourselves following a news source that only ever presents information that we agree with, we should be highly suspicious. Why? Because a balanced source will present a range of viewpoints and information, some of which we agree with and some of which we do not. A source that tells us only what we already believe is not likely to be balanced.

This requires a level of critical self-reflection that we may find difficult. After all, it is reassuring to have our beliefs confirmed time and time again. But it is a rare person who has nothing but true beliefs. So we need our news sources to challenge us. To present ideas that we might disagree with. To sometimes tell us we’re wrong. Seek balance, and you may find yourself better able to tell the difference between fact and fiction.

- Socrates