What Do You Know? Not much, You?
Michael Feldman asks this question on his radio show. What do we really know? It’s impossible to know the future and often difficult to know the present. At least we can be sure of being able to know the past; after all, they say that hindsight is 20:20. However, even history books can be wrong. Facts are indeed not often “Facts” and vary depending one who’s describing them. Even history books vary in their interpretation of historical events.
Why do we blame? In part, we blame because we feel that others are at fault. They said or done something wrong, hurt us in some way. Thus, some blaming depends on the fact that we that we believe that we know certain things. Are these reasonable cognitive strategies? What are the implications and ramifications of this approach?
What do I truly know? Not much. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I really know. I am more likely to make assumptions than I am to actually know what is True.
Everything I see, hear, feel, taste or smell is through my senses. Obviously, this is not a new concept. What we “know” is actually only what we believe to be true. We make assumptions based on faulty or incomplete knowledge. Human senses are limited and fallible. External information is processed and filtered. We see only a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (from 400 to 700 nm) and we hear only from 20 to 20000 Hz. Our senses cannot hope to give us an accurate representation of the world with these limitations? Our minds sort and analyze the input. As Descartes pointed out, the only thing that we can know is that we exist. “I think, therefore I am.”
Our senses are also intimately affected by our beliefs, desires/needs, instincts, and emotions. As individuals, you will see the same things differently than I see them. We not only view them from different physical perspectives, but we also perceive things through different emotional, intellectual, and historical filters. Both our nature and our nurture significantly influence what we see, hear, smell, feel, and think. Our biases have as much influence on how we interpret events as the actual events themselves. Thus, everyday where we jump to conclusions, fill in missing pieces, and assume we know when we rarely do.
We boldly rely on our senses and draw quick and often incorrect conclusions, based on what we erroneously believe to be “true”.
There are many examples of the fallibility of our senses:
We all regularly experiences “misses” - episodes of mis-hearing, mis-reading, mis-seeing, and mis-taking someone or something.
I overhear a conversation between two of my friends about how great Jack Cohen’s party was last night. I immediately get upset that Jack didn’t invite me. I almost always invite him to my parties. I commit that I’m not going to invite him to the next event. I dwell on this for a few days and become more frustrated. Later in the week I bump into one of the friends who had been discussing the party and make up a story that I was unable to go to Jack’s that night. After discussing it, I find out that it was actually a different Jack Cohen that I didn’t know. Needless Blame.
I’m teaching a martial arts class and one of the regular adult students shows up a little late. I tell him to take a spot in the front row and proceed with the class. I notice that he is really being sloppy with his techniques and I provide what seems to be appropriate criticism. After I’ve made several comments, this student turns to me and says, “Do you think that I’m David?”
“What are you talking about?” I respond, “Of course you’re David”.
“That’s what I thought”, he replied. “I’m not David. I’m Steven, David’s twin brother. This is my first time in the class. My brother couldn’t make it tonight.”
You’ve got to be kidding! I was sure that it was my regular student, David who I had been blaming for not practicing and poor performance. What was the chance that he had an identical twin brother? Well, that was a true story (except for the names) and it did happen. I was sure and I was wrong.
We are absolutely positive that we heard or saw something that upset us, later to find out that it wasn’t exactly who or what we thought it was. We thought they were talking about someone that we know, but they weren’t. We thought that they were talking about us but they weren’t. We thought they referred to our kids, but they didn’t. We thought that they missed an appointment with us, but we had the wrong day or time or place.
The result of believing that we know is dissatisfaction with the person, situation, or event. Unrealized expectations. When we are dissatisfied, we default to blaming.
Maintain a healthy amount of doubt about what you know or think that you know. A little humility and a little acknowledgment that you don’t know everything. Take an unassuming attitude and be open to alternative perspectives. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be confident in your actions. Obviously, high self-confidence and self-esteem are beneficial. However, believing that you have all of the knowledge necessary to start blaming others, is potentially even more deleterious to your relationships and your own personal growth.
Of course, I hope you don't take my word for this. Feel free to doubt that any of this is true.