In poker, you make money whenever your opponent plays differently than he would if he knew what cards you have. When you do the same, you lose money. In other words, whenever you act in a way that you wouldn't if you knew the truth, you're making a mistake.
The same could be said for a lot of life. The more of the truth you face and accept, the better off you're going to be. Sometimes it's hard to hear the truth and sometimes it's even harder to accept it, but we're always better off when we do. This is one of the reasons my good friends and I always give each other harsh criticism: it helps us see and accept the truth.
There's one counterpoint to this idea that I'll suggest: sometimes you're better off intentionally believing things that aren't true, even when you know they aren't true. This is a special sort of of belief, though, because you know that it's not completely accurate, but you decide to act as though it is, and to truly try to feel as though it is.
I'll give you a few examples that I hold:
1. I believe that everything will always work out perfectly for me.
2. I believe that everyone I meet will like me proportionally to the amount of time they spend with me.
3. I believe that I can do anything if I put enough time and effort into it.
Logically speaking, I know that these things aren't true. The reason I hold these not-entirely-accurate beliefs, though, is because believing them makes them true more often. They become partially self-fulfilling prophecies.
I tend to get myself into tight spots here and there. I've had my passport stolen in a foreign country the day before I was supposed to leave. Last year I tried to hike the Andes by myself with little gear and no preparation. A while back I found myself at the end of an expert-level cave, completely exhausted and spent, not having any idea how I would coax myself to go miles back to the entrance. I've been detained by police a few times for being places I shouldn't be.
I never worry when these things happen, though, because I believe that everything is going to work out perfectly for me. No matter where I am, I always think something like: there is a path from here to where I want to be, I just have to figure out where it is and start following it. This part of the belief is important, because it's proactive. Having the belief allows me to maximize the chance of it being true by looking for that path rather than being paralyzed by fear or doubt.
Last week a friend was telling me about how she met someone I knew ten years ago, and he still hates me to this day, even though we only hung out once or twice! Clearly not everyone I meet likes me. And, in reality, that's probably a good thing. No one's personality is so unpolarizing that everyone will like them, so if no one ever dislikes you, you probably aren't conveying your personality very accurately.
But by believing that any given person will like me, I don't think about whether or not they'll like me. It's just a foregone conclusion. Instead of thinking about it or worrying about it, I can focus on the conversation and the other person. And, of course, those things maximize the chance of them liking me.
In my last blog post I wrote about how I'm learning ballet. There was no reason for me to believe that I would be good at ballet, but I just assumed that if I put time and effort into it, I would get there. So even during the first class, I saw myself as being on the path towards mastery, and I acted like it. I always push myself to make each move better and better, and I never slack off. Even in the difficult classes, I always take the front-middle spot that no one else wants, because I know that it gives me the best view of the teacher and having more people watching me increases the pressure on me to do my best.
The truth is always a good thing to seek out. Sometimes, though, once you know the truth, it's beneficial to consciously discard it and replace it with a different set of working beliefs. If you need to analyze or have a conversation with sane people, you can revert to the actual truth, but then when choosing your actions, you can go with your adopted belief. Believing doesn't make it so, but it often makes it more likely to be so.
I couldn't resist having a church photo, given the title. This is a fresco in Il Duomo in Florence.
I have two seemingly conflicting beliefs. The first is that whenever possible, it is best to know the truth. By default I think that we sometimes avoid the truth, and we sometimes avoid giving the truth. In almost every case, though, having a clear picture of the truth will allow you to operate more correctly. At the same time, I also believe that holding certain beliefs will benefit you whether they're true or not.
One such belief is that anything is possible. Even in the face of seemingly impossible tasks, I like to believe that maybe I can do it. It's a little bit insane for me to believe that a two-man team of Todd and me can compete against WordPress and Tumblr, but I really believe that we can. Now that we've built something that people really like it's not so crazy, but it was really crazy when we first started. When I got into pickup, I had to believe that I could go from being extremely introverted and awkward to extroverted and sociable. There was little evidence to support that possibility.
I say that these two ideas seem to conflict because I believe that they are actually quite compatible. When looking at the history of others, as well as my own history, I've noticed that we consistently underestimate what we are capable of. Our idea of an honest look at our capabilities is actually further from the real truth than is the assumption that we can do everything.
Rounding up to the nearest 'everything' is not only more accurate than our best critical assessment, it's also much more valuable. The cost of being wrong is usually illusory. If you think that you can become a master violinist, act like it, and turn out to be wrong, you'll still make more progress than if you believe that the ceiling on your ability is lower. At the same time, the cost of incorrectly capping expectations is to provide an artificial ceiling on your achievement. I'm not sure I've ever seen someone progress further than they believed they could.
We think we know the people around us. Each one of us, there’s that one person who we think we really know. We think we’ve cracked them open, learnt their secrets, and can tell what goes on in their heads… regardless of what everyone else says. We think we are different. We are too confident. Humans in general seek uniqueness, we like to believe that we are special. That’s why we ignore warnings, and avert our eyes from plain evidence; we think we know better.
The world is a confusing place. Yet, a part of us believes we have it figured out. The truth is, we know nothing. We know nothing about how the universe runs, nothing about the people around us, and to a certain extent, nothing about ourselves. And that’s why we are always surprised. Because we don’t even leave room for the mere possibility that we might be wrong.
Humans, by nature, are inquirers. We are on a constant quest to find truth, to figure out reality. But all the time, we stand in our own ways. We are our own obstacles. We might think we want truth, but we don’t… we want truth to shape itself into what we already think it is; what we have grown accustom to. We don’t know, and we don’t want to know. We are happy in the inert state we live in, in our bubble. We claim that we want our knowledge to extend, but those are only words we recite to fool ourselves into believing that we are growing.
I say this, and I am aware that I too have restricted myself using my own chains. You see, the realization of a problem might be the first step towards solving it, but sometimes a step isn’t really enough. Even though I have been hurt too many times, I continue to trust. I continue to see the good in people, and let them into my life, and my heart. I hear people talking behind each other’s backs, and I assume it won’t happen to me, because you see, “I’m different”. But I can’t imagine another achievable scenario of living. Because even though living this way will bring out trouble, there are moments that make it all worth it… moments that couldn’t have happened without trust, self-deceit, and foolishness.