Monday, April 5, 2010

Seizing the elephant

Most people have a hard time holding two seemingly contradictory ideas in their head at the same time.

It's like the tale of the elephant and the blind men. Several blind men were asked what an elephant was like.

One came up to the elephant's side and said the elephant was like a wall.

Another got hold of the elephant's leg and said it was like a great tree trunk.

Yet another grabbed the elephant's trunk and said the the elephant was like a snake.

Who was right?

Who was wrong?

They all were right, after a fashion, but didn't have the big picture. All they had was parts of the whole.

Those contradictory ideas in your head may be just different ends of the elephant.

There's a lot of strange news out there in the world. Some stories are straight unadulterated lies. Many are mostly true, but only part of the story. It hard to get the big picture. Few of us have the time to dig too deeply. Much of what we hear is contradictory.

People are drawn to easy answers. If they identify themselves as Conservative, everything is viewed through the Conservative lens. Same goes for Liberal, or Libertarian, or Looney Tune. Doesn't make what, once the filters are on, the rest of the elephant becomes invisible.

There are plenty of people pointing to their part of the elephant and calling it the whole elephant: Newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, podcasts, web sites, every form of media. A few will point out their bias and limitations -darn few.

We can get so caught up in the different descriptions of the elephant that we lose sight of what's really important. Things like: Is the elephant going to step on me? Is it angry? Running away from me? Toward me? Is there anything I can do about the elephant? Should I stay out of its way? Try to tame it?

Now instead of the word "elephant," substitute things like "government," "the economy," "the Chinese," "the bankers." Just about anything.

Listen to as many "blind men" (media people, government spokesmen, corporate mouth pieces, friends, family and neighbors etc, etc.)

Get as clear a view of the elephant as possible, accepting that you probably won't have the complete picture. Understand that all information won't agree with each other, but that you can't discard any of it. More info later might fill in the gaps and resolve the apparent conflicts.

Then you have to decide what to do about it. Maybe that elephant is far away and not your problem. Maybe all you can do is get out of its way. Maybe, just maybe, you have an elephant gun.

The bigger the problem, the more likely it can affect your life, the more effort needed to discover what the elephant looks like and what its intentions are. Another mind skill is analyzing the problem. Another skill is knowing that there are some things you just can't deal with -at least not on a very direct level.

I can worry about International treaties, but my ability to influence diplomats is limited. However, if I see a treaty will affect something like the availably of vitamins, I can take action.

It's easy to just accept one viewpoint, but lazy too. It's could be dangerous. That elephant could turn rogue. On the other hand, maybe the elephant can be tamed to work for you. Keep your options open, along with your mind.


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