Childlike Eyes

I was talking a lady recently who said that she doesn’t understand why anyone would want to bring a child into a world like this. That got me thinking. What world is she seeing?

The world we see is filtered by both our expectations and that which we choose to see. Clearly what she saw was a world that was not safe for children. We humans are facing a great upheaval in the way we do things. We can no longer rely on fossil fuels to power our devices as both the fossil fuels will run out and our atmosphere will fill up with carbon dioxide, creating a run away climate change disaster. The world is full of wars, terror and horror. People are being lost in alternate computer driven realities, giving up their lives in the pursuit of virtual goods with no inherent meaning. Clearly bringing a child into this chaos would be bad.

Yet is this a fair assessment of the world? Two hundred years ago we humans barely relied on fossil fuels. Our mode of transport was foot or hoof. Running out of fossil fuels is barely a blip on our timeline. Our atmosphere faces a great challenge, and so do we humans as a result of it. However consider that we are capable or surviving upheavals. We humans are adaptive. Beyond changing our current living practices, migrating to more habitable places and limiting the number of children we have, we humans should survive it. While the survival of humans will require us to change, at what time in our past have we humans not adapted to the world we find ourselves in? The world is full of wars, violence and terror, but there are less wars every year, less violence and less to be terrified about. The little that is left certainly is represented more in the news, but that is the nature of ‘The News’.

I do not see that the world today is any worse than the world of 80 yeas ago. If we look at 80 years ago, the Western World was recovering from World War One. It was in the great depression of the Western countries. The Eastern countries and other parts of the world mostly were not affected. There was the Spanish Flu, which killed millions of people, although less than what the war killed.

One of the greatest cliches is to compare now to the past and find both that it was better then and that times were harder. “Back in my day” usually leads to stating that now is bad and soft. If this cliché were perpetually true, then humanity would never have progressed beyond stone tools. Clearly this isn’t true, so perhaps the cliché is false.

To what point do we keep insisting that the world is such a gloomy and dangerous place? That this is no place to raise a child? Why do people miss the beauty all around us?

I put it down to confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is a human trait of promoting in our memories the events that confirm our theories and demoting in our memories those events which contradict our expectations. It is how every sound we hear at night confirms the danger we fear, the look in the ladies eyes that convey disgust and the cherry picked evidence that proves we have cured cancer, again.

In the case of violence in our world, either from man or nature, confirmation bias can be accelerated by a dirty sample. A dirty sample is where we believe the evidence before our eyes is fairly representative of nature, but we are wrong. A good example is a deck of cards. Shuffled properly, the deck should give us a random card when we split the deck, that is, the odds of drawing an Ace should be 1 in 52. If we stack the deck though, the odds change, and if we tamper with the deck, removing some cards and adding others, the odds can change to a certainty. A deck of just Aces means we will get an Ace.

We humans like to know what is going on in the world and we tend to pass on information that we think is important. Often we don’t tell each other the nice stuff, we warn each other of the bad stuff. This is a survival trait – I would rather know there is a saber tooth tiger in that field over there than some lovely flowers. If there is no saber tooth tiger in the field, feel free to tell me about the flowers, but really, can we get on with the bit where you tell me where all the danger is so I can just survive?

In the modern age, the most commonly used method of communicating danger is referred to as “The News”. Media companies cover this in many different formats, but it mostly represents the same thing, whether it is a free to air television, cable television, the radio, news blogs, social networks and so forth, people are more interested in hearing about the bad stuff over the good stuff. We like to be heard, so we will tend to tell the bad stuff.

If we base our reality on this dirty sample, then the world is going to seem to be filled full of bad stuff. The world isn’t actually that bad. I am fairly confident that for every negative thing reported in The News the reports could easily find ten things that are positive. They don’t report on these as people are less interested in hearing about them, so they will sell less copy and thus make less money. While there are a few web sites dedicated to only reporting good news, they are swamped in numbers by the web sites reporting bad news.

If we think that the world is frightening, then look around us, we will see a plethora of evidence to support our view. Yet the evidence is a dirty sample, biasing our information and confirming our fears. It takes strength and courage to turn your back on these dirty samples and go looking at the world again, without the bias we have built up and see the world as a child sees it.

If we see the world through childlike eyes, we will see that it is actually worth bringing a new child into this world. Just not too many please.

Securing Insecurity

It is often hard to tell the difference between a situation that is socially dangerous and one that you are feeling is socially dangerous, but isn’t. If the situation is dangerous, you need to defend yourself, while if the situation isn’t dangerous, fending for yourself may make it dangerous. The trick is to have in place enough safety in place if you gain evidence of danger that you can quickly become safe, while not putting too many safety systems in place such that you create a hostile situation.

The first thing to remember, if you do not have clear and present evidence that you are in danger, then you probably do not need to panic right now. It is important to calm down and think rationally. The way that blood tends to flow in the brain, when emotions are heightened, blood flows into the areas of your brain that process emotion and physical action and away from the areas that deal with logic and strategy. With such uneven blood flow, plans are made poorly, logic is distorted and you can end up creating danger where none was before.

What do I mean by social danger? This describes any danger that is not an immediate physical danger, such as a dangerous animal making threatening attacking motions, an impending truck about to strike you, or some other direct physical threat. If it is not a direct physical threat, then it is most likely to be a social or psychological threat. Most social threats involve other people and social situations that lead to danger to your future plans, such as friends, community or work. Psychological danger is usually an internal issue which can involve how you see the world, or how you view your placing in the world and your purpose.
Ok, now that we have that sorted, here are some things that you can do about a potentially dangerous social situation.

First of all, assess the situation. What actual evidence do you have to indicate a threat? The evidence is what you need to work on first, because it is the only real information you have. Assess the evidence based on what it indicates the actual danger is, rather than implied danger, and then which actual dangers you can do some action about to negate that danger.

Next assess whether your actions have a negative impact if it turns out that you are wrong. For example, quitting a job may be really foolish if it turns out that you misread the situation, and very hard to undo. Looking for another job if it turns out that you are wrong is easier to let go of, but also has a backup plan for if you are right. These half actions are what we really want to create. A situation where the action increases your options, and safety, but doesn’t push you down a set path that is difficult to alter, in case you are wrong.

Actual evidence may suggest other dangers, but these possibilities are secondary to the known, even if these possibilities are hugely detrimental to you. They still need to be considered, but without direct evidence of reality, they can not be acted upon without decreasing your real security. I take real security over virtual security any day. Plan for how you are going to deal with implied and or interpolated threat, but avoid taking half actions (as described above) and don’t take full actions just because you are scared. Actions before evidence is premature.

Also be careful who you talk to. Debriefing with a select friend or confidante can be a fantastic reality check, or good to bounce plans off when considering strategy. Talking to your potential enemy about the theories you have of their eventual betrayal will most likely place you in a vulnerable position and may trigger the event that you fear. Also consider how many people you want to talk to about your concerns. Talking to one is very safe, but may not give you a reality check, especially if they have similar concerns already. Talking to a few can give you a more grounded perspective, but decreases the secrecy of your fears. Telling too many people means that your internal considerations have become public knowledge and can quite likely trigger events that will place you in a vulnerable situation.

In summary, make careful half actions on evidence, make plans on assumptions, discuss with only a few people what you are concerned about. This is how you remain safe when you aren’t sure of what is going on.