Hard Wired For Trouble

I am up in northern Minnesota and I am reading Brian Portnoy’s excellent book on investing. I will blog about it another time when I am finished.  I am on my iPad, and haven’t figured out how to cut and paste links otherwise I’d link to it.  One point he makes early in the book though is about how you process things.  What frame are you using?

His example is hedgehogs and foxes.  A hedgehog knows one thing really well; be very afraid of foxes.  It’s absolute in this judgement.  When situations change, the hedgehog can’t.  That leaves them very vulnerable.  The fox processes information from a variety of places.  Hedgehogs might be tasty, but other things are tasty too.  The fox isn’t particularly good at any one thing.  As it’s environment changes, it’s reference points change.

Choice is something every human desires.  It’s core to our existence and helps us survive.  This is why the ideas in Milton Friedman’s book, Free to Choose, are so powerful.  In this day and age, humans are confronted with ever more choice.  That causes confusion.  Our brains are hard wired to try and organize.  That’s where trouble starts.

It seems to me a lot of the discourse these days is black and white.  It seeps into every single issue, political or not.  The market is overvalued, or it’s not.  Global warming is happening, or it’s not.  Trump is a madman, or he is not.  If you don’t vote for Clinton, you are against women.  Immigration is good, or it’s not.  Fox News/CNN/MSNBC/Mainstream Media suck, or they don’t. Brexit is good, or it’s a disaster.  Guns are good, or they are not.  Black lives matter, or they don’t.  Startups are overvalued, or they aren’t.  There is a bubble, or their isn’t.  You can form your own list.  Opinion leaders lead the masses to the false dichotomy of choice.  Often, they use fearful words in order to put fear into the thoughts of the people they are trying to persuade.   Fear triggers our flight or fight reflexes.

Being in the Northwoods, you see flight or flight all the time.  Every animal would rather get away from trouble rather than confront it, even moose and bears.  Humans are no different.  Flight or fight creates drama and tension inside us.  Some people thrive on it.

However, life isn’t like that.  Gray areas happen.  It all depends on your circumstance, or frame of reference.  It’s really important to understand and empathize where the other person is coming from before you make a decision. It’s really important to inspect yourself and your own personal psyche before you make a decision as well.  Understand what frame you are looking through, and it helps you understand the decision.   Once you get that mastered you can find true satisfaction on decisions you make.  You won’t look back.

  • Yes.

  • Seph

    I would suggest that an important part of understanding both the other person and one’s self is a serious consideration of the incentives at play. Incentives drive behavior. If you can identify the incentives, then you are well on the way to both empathy and understanding.