No Thought Is An Island

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. John Donne

No thought is an island; it’s an ocean of ideas. Louis Flood   

The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.                             Ralph W Sockman 

 The three island metaphors might help us to better understand the interconnectedness of all things. Although interconnectedness may actually be too complex for the human mind to fully comprehend. An island is considered to be something that is isolated. These island metaphors suggest that people, thinking, and knowledge are not isolated or separate. They are all interconnected, just like everything else.

Because metaphor is so big on my list of useful concepts, and because disunity, division, disagreement, separation, tribalism and lack of unison is so prevalent today in America, the island quotations motivated me to write another blog on the unifying idea of interconnectedness.

People are interconnected to other people. Thinking is interconnected to beliefs, attitudes, emotions and other thoughts. Knowledge is interconnected to other knowledge, to illusions and to the unknown. If everything is interconnected to everything in an unbroken wholeness, then there are actually no islands, metaphorically.

I am hoping that this blog will influence others to join me in admitting we don’t really understand the interconnectedness of everything to everything else. However, I believe we need to keep trying to better understand and to increase our sense of wonder.

My strategy is to be in awe of interconnectedness. At times I do think about the relationship between the planet earth and the universe. I have no problem admitting I don’t understand and that I marvel in awe, wonder, respect, inspiration, admiration.

If we could admit that nothing is an island, nothing is separate, everything is connected, then we would not be divisive, we would not separate or exclude anything from anything else. Everything would be “part of the main”. Can you imagine what the modern day American culture would look like?

No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive. Mahatma Gandhi

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Admit It

 Wherever you go, there you are. Jon Kabat-Zinn

 There is an old joke about a man, who asks a stranger the way to Edinburgh, to which the stranger replies: “If I were going there, I wouldn’t start from here.” Although none of you have ever asked me for directions, I can tell you that wherever you decide to go, you have to start from where you are. And it helps if you know where you are. Not only know it — but acknowledge it.

This blog is about where you are mentally; it is about self-awareness. Where you are mentally now may not be where you think you are because much of a person’s worldview lies outside of awareness. Self-Awareness is defined as the accurate appraisal and understanding of your abilities and preferences and their implications for your behavior and their impact on others. It’s reality-testing.  

Self awareness is important because when you have a better understanding of yourself, you are able to experience yourself as unique and separate individual. You are then empowered to make changes and to build on your areas of strength as well as identify areas where you would like to make improvements.

Since most of us run on auto-pilot, we don’t pause to think about what we are thinking, or why we are thinking what we are thinking, or what effect our thinking has on our doing. Diligent self-awareness involves observation and inquiry; this is the duality of self-awareness. Observing is paying attention to what is going on inside you, and what is happening outside you. Inquiry is asking questions of yourself about what is going on inside you and questions of others to understand yourself better. Because this seems to take too much time and distracts us from doing, it is usually avoided.

Because you are here now and you will be wherever you go, awareness of where you are mentally is important. Being aware of yourself, where you are and why you are there, may be the most important factor in determining how you get to where you are going. I understand that expecting all of us to admit that we need to pay attention to where we are and who we are is unrealistic. After all, self-awareness is one of the hardest things to do. But it is worth the effort.

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”  Benjamin Franklin

He who knows others is learned; he who knows himself is wise.  Lao-Tsze

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When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

 Wrap your arms around uncertainty and accept it. Focus on the process instead.                          Anne Duke

 Once again, this blog is the result of an article I recently read, “The Resulting Fallacy Is Ruining Your Decisions, by Stuart Firestein, who interviewed Annie Duke, a successful poker player, who was a graduate of Columbia and later studied cognitive linguistics in graduate school. Nautilus Magazine, Dec. 7, 2017. This was an interesting article for me because of its focus on probability and uncertainty, which exists because of the hidden information problem. And it makes the point that the decision and the outcome may not be related. I like the way Annie Duke says things; I hope you do too.

Here is what she says about uncertainty:

We know the facts we know, but there may be facts that we don’t know. Then the job of the decider is to reduce the uncertainty as much as they possibly can, but to understand that they’re always working within a range and they have limited control over how things turn out on any given try.

  Here is her great metaphor explanation:

Say I have a fair coin. I can tell you exactly what the probability of heads of tails on the next flip is. But I can’t tell you what the next flip will be. That’s what accepting outcomes is like. In life, it’s usually more complicated because in most cases we haven’t examined the coin. We don’t know if it is a fair coin. That’s the hidden information problem. We can’t see everything. We haven’t experienced everything.

 Here is what she says about outcomes:

We’re rational beings that think things should make sense. It’s very hard for us to wrap our heads around a bad outcome when we didn’t do anything wrong. Or that there’s a good outcome that’s just random. If we know that outcomes infect us, we want to separate ourselves from outcomes as much as we possibly can when we’re thinking about decision quality. Sometimes the decision is incredibly remote from the outcome.

Anne Duke is saying things I have been writing about for years. Because I like the way she says them I am hoping that the way she says these things will give you a different view that improves your understanding of probability, uncertainty and the decision and outcome relationship.

 Remember my theme:

The minute you make up your mind that the way you see things makes a difference, it will make a difference in the way you see thigs — and do things.




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What’s Yours?

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  Stephen Covey

Most of us are ready to tell others what we think, but slow to find out what others think. Stephen Covey’s famous quote above (1989) attacks the human tendency to rush in, fix things up with advice. He suggests you diagnose before you prescribe. “What’s your opinion?” comes before “That’s mine.”

Finding out what others think before you tell them what you think is not common practice.That’s an attitude of independence, not an attitude of interdependence, which is mutual dependence. Interdependence is a belief, attitude, practice that is missing in America today. Certainty you don’t find it in government; and you don’t find it is public discourse. You may not even find it in your neighborhood.

The problem with the absence of interdependence today is that it makes my opinion and your opinion equally valid. Facts are hard to come by. You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Most people don’t listen with the intention to understand. They are deciding what they want to say in order to be understood. Because this seems to be a human tendency, it is hard to overcome, even hard to recognize. It is an example of “my side bias”: only my opinion counts. Although this is easy to see in politics, it is also common in everyday communication, and not easy to see in oneself, but easy to see in others.

Covey says that to listen with the intent to understand is empathic listening. Empathy is defined as: identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings and motives, Dictionary.  Can you imagine what politics, public discourse and inter-personal communications would be like with empathy. What the world needs now is empathy.

In America today, the country is becoming more and more divided because of more and more opinions, that often appear to be dogmatic beliefs. They are not usually considered tentative or open to feedback from others. What would happen if empathy became the standard operating procedure in interpersonal relations? If this vision seems like an unrealistic fantasy, what does that say about humanity?

 Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each                                    other’s eye for an instant?   Henry David Thoreau


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Reality Isn’t What It Used To Be

Maybe It Never Was

 American devotion to religious and intellectual freedom, over the centuries,                          morphed into a fierce entitlement to custom made reality. Kurt Anderson

Once upon a time the sun was rotating around the flat earth which was 6,000 years old. Today the earth is round, rotating around the sun and considered to be billions of years old. In between, many changes in “reality” have occurred. Today in America, there are many beliefs about reality. The way one believes to see their reality is their reality.

In 1990 Walter Truett Anderson wrote in his book, Reality Isn’t What it Used to Be: If there is anything we have plenty of, it is belief systems. Since then in America, political and public discourse has seen an increase in personal beliefs systems. Believing and seeing has become reality. Over the centuries since its founding, it seems some Americans have grown into the idea that as an American they are absolutely free to ignore science, expertise and have reason to believe what they feel to be true.

What has been lost is critical reasoning. “I can believe whatever I want” seems to be a residue of the Enlightenment, Postmodernism and New Age movements. How did this continue to expand? The end of the twentieth century gave out-of-control thinking the perfect infrastructure to make the untrue, unreasonable, and unprovable seem real; and that infrastructure being the internet. Kurt Anderson. The internet as made many personal realities easily available to everyone.

Reality has always been in the eyes of the beholder. Today reality is still in the eyes of the beholder, but a quite different beholder. It seems that the beholder has been given the “American freedom” and the modern infrastructure to believe what they want to believe. Can critical reasoning become reality in America? When is our belief about reality real?

I have been writing about beliefs ever since I have been writing. I don’t believe that the majority of Americans today feel absolutely free to ignore science, expertize, and reason in order to believe what they feel to be true. I believe it is the noisy ones. The quiet ones need to wake up and be heard. Science of course is an ally. Critical reasoning thinking is the practice of considering all aspects of a situation when deciding what to believe or what to do; the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment, and an open and inclusive worldview, Dictionary. That’s not easy to do, but possible — some of the time, by some of us.

A modern day view of American reality could be in the making. It doesn’t take everyone, or even a majority of Americans, to change today’s view of reality. It will take a well-organized, reasoning group of noisy ones, designing a new custom made reality (an open and inclusive worldview). It is always right to do the right thing. M. L. King

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead


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Is It Tribalism?

As they (the founding fathers of America) conceived of a new society that would protect                 the individual rights of all humanity, they explicitly excluded a second tribe among them: African –American slaves.  Andrew Sullivan *

To be divided is to be separated into parts or pieces; being in a state of disagreement or disunity, Dictionary.  Today in America, over 200 years after it was founded, women and men are divided, blacks and whites are divided, liberals and conservatives, rich and poor, etc., etc. Our democracy is divided by gender, race, politics, income, religion, culture, geography, education, etc. And we now have a president and his followers so badly dividing democracy that it is impossible to ignore. By definition, these divisions could easily qualify as tribes. And their behavior could be described as tribalism. Tribe: group of people sharing a common community of customs, interest, culture or habit: Tribalism: A strong sense of identifying with and being loyal to one’s tribe, group, etc.

 The article by Sullivan, plus the recent interest in the concept of tribes, motivated me to write this blog. Sullivan suggests the pros and cons of tribalism in America: One of the great attractions of tribalism is that you don’t actually have to think very much. All you need to know on any given subject is which side you’re on. When three core components of a tribal identity — race, religion, and geography — define your political parties, you’re in serious trouble.

Remember, the goal of democracy is to have equality, diversity and inclusion. It becomes a problem when we turn rival tribes into enemies. I used to argue that war is inevitable only if we believe it is. Now I am no longer sure. When the conclusion seems to be that war is inevitable, then disagreement, disunity and conflict also seems inevitable. What does that say about humankind’s ability to get along with each other? Could it be that humans aren’t built for democracy?  Sullivan suggests that America wasn’t built for humans.

Overcoming tribalism won’t be easy. Tribalism, it’s always worth remembering, is not one aspect of human experience. It’s the default human experience. It comes more naturally to us than any other way of life. For the overwhelming majority of our time on this planet, the tribe was the only form of human society. The notion of living alongside people who do not look like us and treating them as our fellows was meaningless for most of human history, Sullivan.

But look how far we have come in 200 years. Humanism has been addressing the problem dividing America and learning to live alongside people who do not look like us and treating them as our fellows.  And in America and today it is at its peak. Women are marching, the sports world is talking politics, books are being published, respected journalists are being heard, the internet is beginning to take evasive action, the rest of the world is noticing. Many tribes are beginning to unite. Could this save democracy?

  • Can Our Democracy Survive Tribalism? An article in New York Magazine, Sept. 18 – Oct. 1, 2017. By Andrew Sullivan




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Unwanted Consequences

 When making a decision, be sure to ask: “What Else Could Happen?”

 When taking medicine, unintended consequences sometimes happen. When making decisions, unintended consequences sometimes happen. Taking medicine produces side effects that can’t always be predicted so we are often told of some possible undesirable consequences. When making decisions, we are almost never told of some possible undesirable consequences. Thinking about possible side effects is up to the decision maker. Its your choice.

Decision making involves: Options and Outcomes. Options are the possible actions you can take; what you might choose to do. Outcomes are what happens as a result of your choice of options. Herein lies the problem. There are unlimited possible options and unlimited possible outcomes. You can’t possibly know them all. This blog is a focus on outcomes (consequences).

One way to improve your decision making, and to avoid some unwanted side effects, is to expand your consideration of possible outcomes/consequences. Not paying attention to these possibilities is a major cause of poor decision making. But remember, good decision making doesn’t guarantee a good outcome. Side effects happen.

Because decision makers can’t consider all of the possible information available about options and outcomes, totally rational decisions are unlikely. But we can improve our choice making. We need to remember that the choice of option is up to us; but not the choice of outcome. We do not choose or control the outcome/ consequence, but good decision making can influence it.

A possible influential decision strategy is what I have called “The Outcomes Window”, (Creative Decision Making, 2003). This emphasizes the possible positive and negative outcomes for both the decision maker and others. Decision outcomes, almost always, effect more that just the decider.

Ask yourself these four basic questions. What are the possible positive outcomes for self? What are the possible negative outcomes for self? What are the possible positive outcomes for others? What are the possible negative outcomes for others?

Some other outcomes questions: Why do some questions have more answers than others? Whom do you consider as others? Is it easier to think of positive or negative outcomes? Which is more important, outcomes to you or to others?

Because failure to consider possible positive and negative consequences for self and other is a major cause of unwanted consequences (outcomes), when making important personal decisions, be sure to think about how you are deciding as well as what you are deciding. The process of deciding determines the goodness of the decision. The goodness of the outcome is influenced, but not determined, by the deciding process. Bad outcomes happen.

The best-laid plans of mice and men are usually about equal. Murphy’s Laws





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