Lifetip 2: Know your -isms

As I explained in the introduction of Lifetip #1, this series of blogs is inspired by a Rudi & Freddie podcast episode in which the hosts name a dozen of their most important lifetips to humanity.

The second lifetip I am going to try to discuss here is one that is actually more of a complaint than it is a concrete and practical lifetime recommendation.

It all revolves around economist Jesse Frederik venting about modern day tendencies to search for new cures for age old problems. He complains that people keep coming up with new fancy ideologies, which they present in spiffy TED talks and best selling books, without appreciating all the ideas that previous thinkers already explored.

My summary of what this life tip boils down to, is the following:

Try to understand existing theories before searching for (and accepting) new ones.

The internet has never been so influential. We have gotten accustomed to having news and information at our disposal 24/7. We don’t even need to remember anything ourselves. We just need to remember the Google search terms needed to find something and regurgitate whatever the WWW-beast feeds us. We can look up the same thing a million times instead of making an effort to actually memorize the information we are pointing our eyeballs at.

If we are forced to deal with a complex theory, we watch the 10 min breakdown on YouTube (or TikTok or whatever kids are into these days) instead of reading the actual book. Even an elaborate newspaper article is a challenge, let alone a peer reviewed academic piece. 

The abbreviation TLDR is the ultimate 21st century (online) conversation stopper. As much as I hate that, I must admit there are times when I can’t work my way through blogposts that take longer then 5-10 minutes to read.

Soundbites & Blurbs

Despite our faulty attention spans, we are more opinionated than ever. Politics, gender, race, anthem singing etiquette, Scandinavian teenagers and their braids. So many things to disagree on and so little time!

We are in constant need of quick facts and snappy comebacks to reinforce our opinions. You have to avoid talking about “the pros and cons” and “consequences on a macro level” if you don’t want people to walk (or click) away.

Even if you happen to be one of the rare ones who actually read Karl Marx’ whole Manifesto, you have to be able to present its content in bite size portions if you ever want to use it to convince someone about the correct implementation of communism (which I am assuming is what Karl Marx wrote about… TLDR). 

Ask TED

The popularity of TED Conference Talks on YouTube is another clear sign of the amount of information we have become comfortable dealing with in one sitting. TED Talks are 10 to 30 minute mini-lectures on scientific, cultural, political, and academic topics.

As much as I love myself a good TED talk, I do realize the emphasis is sometimes more on the “feel good” aspect of an idea than on the actual science behind it. I’m not saying that the content presented in TED Talks is incorrect per se. But one could argue that the talks that make the cut, rely more on the talent of the speaker and the video’s potential as click bait on social media, than on the actual relevance of the topic. 

Catchy new theories make for interesting conversations around the coffee machine. Their simplicity make them appealing, either because they confirm a popular idea or because it works well as a “fun fact” on social occasions. 

Simple theories are becoming more accepted than complicated ones, following the “It is true because I get it”-logic.

Break the Dunning-Kruger effect

A 1999 Psychology study by David Dunning and Justin Kruger described a phenomenon in human behavior that seems to apply to a large percentage of the human race. It manifests itself when people have an opinion about things they don’t know shit about. If they would’ve let the online community (by which I mean me) give their findings a name, it may have ended up being called the Kim Kardashian effect, but they decided to name it after themselves, which…. I mean… sure. 

And now, it is time for some painful irony.

You see, what I really want to do now is embed a relatively short YouTube video to do some of the explaining for me. My attention span is waning and so is yours, so just click play below. You can thank me later.

People that know the least about a topic tend to think they know the most. It is only after you actually learn something that you realize how little you really know. Even actual experts in their field aren’t as self assured about their knowledge as the complete dimwits are.

It’s pretty much the opposite of imposter syndrome, which Michelle Obama awesomely brought up at a conference in Kuala Lumpur last month.

That it’s difficult doesn’t make it wrong

Our current state of intellectual apathy has also cemented the idea that scientists make their research complicated just to spite us. 

How do you come back at corny platitudes being slung across the table about the “status quo” muddying the water with difficult words?

What do you do when the facts others rely on come from nothing more than their own gut, and others are overly eager to accept a more convenient stance on reality?

Discouraging as it may feel, according to Jesse Frederik, the solution is: MORE FACTS!

Read books and articles about a topic you have an opinion on. Don’t avoid submerging yourself with ideas that may contradict your own and talk about them with others in a respectful manner.

Continue listening to TED talks on YouTube but also look up more elaborate lectures made by the same experts.

Know your -isms and -ologies, and don’t be afraid to use them.

Lifetip 1: Believe in goodness

Rutger Bregman and Jesse Frederik are the hosts of my favorite Dutch podcast: de Rudi & Freddie Show. They discuss all sorts of topics, which at one point ventured into their disdain towards self help books. But, as is typical for R&F, they decided to investigate the popularity of the genre and then ended up coming up with their own list of life-improvement tips.

Rutger Bregman’s first tip, also stars in his most recent book “De meeste mensen deugen”. The title is kind of difficult to translate as there isn’t really an English equivalent for the word “deugen”. The noun “deugd” means “virtue”, and the verb means something along the lines of “to be virtuous”, but it’s used in a much more casual way than the English version makes it sound…

Someone could ask me if I’ve met my brother’s new girlfriend. My answer could then be: “Ja, ze deugt”, which is just basically three words to say that I have indeed met her and that I give her a thumbs up.

Long story short, Rutger’s newest book title translates to something along the lines of “Most people are cool”.

The accompanying tip boils down to:

Always assume good intent.

There will always be moments in life when you are not quite sure what “the other” thinks, feels or might do. When you find yourself in such a situation, you can assume the worst and start preparing (mentally) for somebody’s anger, stupidity or deceit. You can also chill out, assume all is well and nobody is out to get you.

Why would you give people the benefit of the doubt?

  • Because it is most often right.
  • Because it is less stressful
  • Because you avoid making it a self fulfilling prophecy

Rutger insists that trust is the water that we swim in. Having your trust broken (by being set up, robbed or swindled out of your money) is collateral damage. The price you pay for mistrust is not worth the amount of negative energy it brings into your life.

True story

A while ago, somebody knocked on my door. The person at the door was a stranger. He told me he lived down the street from me and that never did this kind of thing but that his sister had just been hospitalized and that he needed a couple of euro’s to fill up the tank of his scooter to go see her.

So what were my choices? I could assume the worst and let my fantasy freak me out:

  • He’s a junkie who is going to use the money to get high.
  • He’s never going to pay me back.
  • Next time he knocks he is going to rob me.

The alternative was to assume he was telling the truth and help the dude out.

In all honesty I did a bit of both: I assumed he was telling the truth, but didn’t count on seeing him or the money back ever again (even though he assured me several times he would be back the following week).

I dug through several bags and pockets to collect all the bits of change I could find (because really, who still has cash these days?) and told him it was not necessary to repay me but that he should pay it forward to somebody else some day.

So yah, I may have “lost” 4 euros. Or did I?

  • Maybe he really did come back with the money but I wasn’t home.
  • Maybe the handful of change is still being handed down to people in need, spreading kindness and smiles across the country.
  • Maybe he was really planning on coming back to rob and kill me, but changed his mind after my kindness (or when he glanced into my house and saw that my house was a trip hazard).

Hold on… That last one doesn’t sound quite right. This positive-assumption thing takes some getting used to, I guess…

Society and politics

Let’s try applying the same logic to a larger scale.

Because if we trust the people right in front of us, we can trust people a bit further away as well, can’t we? And if we do that, we can assume whole groups of people consist solely of good-intentioned folks.

What could we achieve as a society if we put full trust in each other? What would our laws look like if we weren’t always basing them on the assumption that people want to take advantage of the system?

That is some radical thinking, I’m telling you…

Trust your friendly neighborhood charlatan

Have you ever been cheated? Good! That means you put trust in someone. Keep it up!

If you haven’t been scammed at least a few times in your life you may be missing out on the good stuff by being too mistrustful.