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Five Pitfalls of the Information Age

Five Pitfalls of the Information Age

Within a few weeks, fear of the COVID-19 has gripped the world. Not only fear but anger directed towards those whom we believe are supposed to protect us. The national news provides around the clock COVID-19 news breaks and headlines every minute of the day as we sit and wait patiently for this to pass. Things could very well get worse.

Are we mentally prepared for such a reality? COVID-19 has illuminated a few factors that influence how we operate as a society and as individuals in these trying times. Hopefully, we can avoid these “evils” as I like to call them. My use of the term “evil” is a bit hyperbolic. I want to drive home just how important it is not to fall into these common traps that, with time, will prove to be worst than any pandemic.

Misinformation


Misinformation is a HUGE problem in our society. The younger me would have said that people need to be more educated. As I have grown older, I realized that many people don’t share your zest for accurate, timely, and trustworthy information. Not everyone has to the time to vet the constant onslaught of ideas being thrown their way every day via their social media newsfeeds, local television stations, national media, and other sources of information.

What’s more, we live in a world full of messages, symbols, and images that shape our day to day existence in unimaginable ways. We consume so much information that it would be impossible to carry out mundane tasks if we were to process it all consciously.

This predicament leaves our subconscious to connect the dots when we don’t have the attention, motivation, or drive to sift through the mounds of stimuli our brains encounter.


A lot of these subconscious connections are far from accurate but are efficient on a practical level. They keep us safe, consistent, and comfortable. With this in mind, what happens when a random threat pierces peaceful existence? A lot of us look to those who are close to us to fill in the gaps and let us know what we should and should not do.

Our preconceived notions and expectations about what should take place, no matter how lofty, influence how we perceive, interpret, or process the information. We show a significant preference for information that is more confirmation than information. So the fault is not in the information. It lies with how we consume information, where we get our information from, and how we process information.

We fail when it comes to asking the right questions and thinking critically about the information that is presented to us. For the most part, we show a significant preference for information that is more confirmation than information. 

To be readily accepted, new information has to fit comfortably within our worldview, paradigms, and beliefs. Anything outside of these parameters can is equivalent to lifting a 50-pound weight. It’s challenging to integrate new or foreign concepts within our minds. It’s challenging to understand a concept such as “light-years” or light speed unless we deal with these concepts on a routine basis.

It is easier for your mother to explain what happened yesterday at the neighborhood watch. However, she struggles to understand what you do with your big-city job. Still, the details of your work are more than readily available online.

When we interact with unfamiliar information, facts, and details, a situation ripe for misinformation ensues. We attempt to absorb this information through the lens of our worldview and find it challenging to trust unfamiliar people, even if their words make sense on a logical level. We are more comfortable receiving news from familiar sources.

This familiarity filter distorts news, facts, and data. The news story ebbs and flows from person to person until it reaches you. At this point, it looks nothing like the original message. You’ve just witnessed the telephone game. Except for there’s more at stake than a lesson for children.

We must start with better sources, better information, and a better interpretation of the information if we are to make better decisions. Be aware of your own bias and always check your sources, especially if what you are reading is online. The people writing articles and posting on social media channels are everyday people like me and you.


Don’t be afraid to get it wrong. Being wrong is not a crime; however, spreading misinformation should be. Sometimes we get things wrong because we want to believe, and we want things to make sense. Sometimes things just don’t make sense to us, and that’s ok as long as we are getting it right. Your desire should be to get it right, not be right.

misinformation

There is an intention behind every message. Understanding the message’s purpose will go a long way in helping you to decipher the usefulness of the message. Most importantly, always ask questions. I great question is worth a thousand answers. These suggestions are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to avoiding the pitfalls of misinformation. Identifying misinformation can be a chore. The more you practice, the better you get at it.

Fear


As prehistoric creatures, we needed the adrenaline to react quickly at the sound of a predator lurking in the shadows. Fear was necessary for our survival. But in our modern society, we live in an era in which humans dominate the planet, systematically harvest, modify, and transport it’s resources. No imminent danger or big cat is waiting at the corner to get us. So the question is, why do we live our lives as if we are in imminent danger? More importantly, why do we imagine so many threats to our existence, when, in fact, few real risks exist?


Fear is a defensive mechanism. Our bodies chemically react when we are embarrassed in front of a group of people. We are scared. The survival of who we “are” is at risk when we are embarrassed. Our bodies don’t differentiate physical threats from existential threats. So as we have evolved, our physical risks have decreased while our existential threats have increased. There is no wonder that fear is such a dominant emotion.

Fear has one primary function. That function is to help us survive. Unfortunately, not only does fear fall short in its primary purpose, unchecked fear and anxiety inhibit us from the actualization of what makes us feel alive. Fear often robs us from cultivating deep relationships, living in now, seizing rare opportunities, and, most importantly, being the person we were always meant to be.


We fear rejection, math, science, death, pain, disease, change, homeliness, losing control, the cold, the heat, the unknown, judgment, loneliness, crowds, disapproval, animals, viruses, bacteria, authority, insubordination, theft, crime, riots, missing out, friends, family, people, places and things. This list is by no means exhaustive. It drives home the point that there is an endless list of things to fear.

Yes, there are real threats to our existence, but frequently the real danger is how we react to the perceived threat. We have all heard the statement by Charles R Swindoll, ” I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” When it comes to fear, this statement is the holy grail.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the truth in Swindoll’s words. The betrayal of fear lies in the actions we take once we feel fear. When fear trumps our desire for information accuracy and critical thinking, as it often does, we begin to make irrational decisions, spread our fears under the guise of “informing” others and discounting decrees of prudence. Fear also gives power to those who know what you want to hear—those who understand the human psyche around attention, fear, and acceptance.

Fear. Deep rotting fear. They were infected by it. Did you see? Fear is a sickness. It will crawl into the soul of anyone who engages it. It has tainted your peace already. I did not raise you to see you live with fear. Strike it from your heart. Do not bring it into our village. – Flint Sky, Apocalypto

We can fear anything and everything and logically justify that fear. What’s more, is that your friends or family will be more than willing to prop up your pseudo-justifications. Some of these fears, in the right circumstances, are more than justified. You shouldn’t walk into oncoming traffic. Your fear of being hit by a car is justified.


Unfortunately, a lot of these fears are not unjustified. They are mere fabrications of your mind. Unfounded fears not only hold you back from reaching your true potential as a human being, but they also keep the human race back because it depends on you as an individual to fulfill your purpose.

Like COVID-19, fear is highly contagious. The people that surround you are highly susceptible to your fear. They share your worries, and when they realize they share your concerns, it strengthens their faith in that fear. Instead of one person not fulfilling their purpose, now there are two. The infection begins. Your worries will lead you both to life without…anything. It may not kill you today or at all, but it kills the opportunities not taken, it kills true happiness, it kills purpose, it kills success. When that fear spreads, it becomes an infectious disease.

Here are some questions to ask that will add clarity to fear. Do we search for clarity and understanding? Are we feeling fear because it makes us feel safe to fear? Is there a problem to solve? What actions should we take? Is there anything to fear at all? Is our fear based on misinformation? Is there a person or organization communicating actionable information that we help me to alleviate the source of my concern? Does the person or organization have an agenda? Does anyone stand to gain anything from my fear?

Remember, fear is just an emotion. Try not to judge your emotional reactions. Throughly examine the source of your anxiety. Look for opportunities that lie within your concern.

Passive Thinking


Passive thinking is similar to second-hand smoking. You may not be the originator of harmful thoughts, paradigms, or ideas. However, it costs you absolutely nothing to buy into them. Essentially, passive thinking is a failure to think for yourself. This problem has become more and more prevalent to me as I have grown older.


Passive thinking is one of the many symptoms of information overload. Once our brains overload, we go into autopilot. If it sounds familiar or comfortable, it passes our filter. That filter is what we pass off as “thinking” when it’s just a passive bodyguard trying to get through the night.

Passive thinking is dangerous because there is so much about the world we don’t know. Yet there is so much that is expected of us as individuals, partners, parents, teachers, managers, directors, and others responsible for crucial life decisions. We are supposed to make vital decisions without essential information. This scenario is ripe for passive thinking. Don’t let the term “passive” fool you. Passive thinking can often correlate with less than passionate actions.

Passive thinking allows others to do our thinking for us. Most of us are just trying to do our jobs consistently, on time, against a backdrop of demanding bosses. That means that expediency, sacrificing certain ethical prereqs and accuracy.


The news media need eyeballs, clicks, and hearts. That means catchy headlines, self-assured analysts, and linguistical word-smiths who share unwavering bias opinions served aesthetically as “news.” And we perceive the news as the news, “facts” about what is happening. In truth, these facts are tainted with personal bias and agenda. I

It’s up to you to rise above passive thinking and “meet” the requirements of thinking, processing what you see and hear based on context and logical analysis. Never marginalize your emotional reactions to what you hear and always temper those emotions with hardcore facts. The truth is somewhere in the middle. What’s more important is to remember that there are rarely definitive answers to hard questions.

If someone promises you a definitive solution to a largescale problem, question it. Accuracy usually produces uncertainty. Passive thinking is also a symptom of attempting to address issues outside of your control. Most people scoff at the mere thought that they could be a victim of Dunning Kruger, it claims millions of victims daily. What makes you think you are qualified enough to know if your federal government is in a position to use tax dollars to bail out a bank or redirect that money to fixing potholes?

Passive thinking is also a symptom of attempting to address issues outside of your control. Most people scoff at the mere thought that they could be a victim of Dunning Kruger, but alas, it claims millions of victims daily. What makes you qualified enough to know if your federal government is in a position to use tax dollars to bail out a bank or redirect that money to fixing potholes? Maybe your tribe has the answer…

Pure mathematics has showcased the fallacies of intuition time and time again. So it takes effort as with anything else to question everything. When I say question everything, that includes challenging your bias, your paradigm, the reason why you feel the way you feel or why you are afraid of a specific answer. Remember, the truth lies in the questions you ask, not the answers you receive.

Passive thinking often exists in the shadows of a more pronounced threat. This threat has been more prevalent now, more than ever, especially with the divisiveness that has enveloped our nation.

Tribalism


Tribalism is passive thinking gone social. It reduces the mental gymnastics of decision making to simple choices such as red vs. blue. That works for a Halo game but can have massive consequences in the real world. Critical thinking knows no race, gender, nationality, or political party. Tribalism knows no compromise, compassion, or empathy.


Tribalism places passive thinking on autopilot, with fear as the pilot, misinformation as the stewardess, and limiting beliefs as the destination. Tribalism, in itself, is not a bad idea. We root for our local sports teams and claim the cities, states, and countries we in which we grew up. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your people, people who share your life experiences unique to an area. They get you, and you get them. Connecting with people who share similar experiences with you enhances your life and builds relationships that can be extremely rewarding. In essence, this is a community, a vital part of human existence.

As with anything, too much of a good thing can hurt you. Being a part of a community can be rewarding, but what happens when your loyalty to this community supersedes rational thinking, reasonable actions, and succeeds your identity as a human being.

Tribalism has grown into a problem that hides in plain sight. This issue permeates our political landscape. I grew up in Mississippi, a mostly republican state only to live a significant portion of my life in Chicago, Illinois, a democratic state. The difference in cultures is a large one. Despite the difference, I know decent individuals who identify as republicans and honest individuals who identify as democrats.

Yet, based on where you live or what camp you are from, the “other” party consists of the worst human beings known to exist. Absolutely nothing they do or say makes sense or passes as reasonable. Over 50% of the population are dead wrong about life and have no decency.

Religions mascarade as if their faith is the ONLY path to spirituality and a deeper connection to a higher power or a happy afterlife. It’s almost as if other cultures, ways of life, languages, and ways of thinking do not exist. If I was raised in Japan and brought up on Shinto, why should I believe your Jesus or your Bible? I’m by no means attacking religious beliefs here.

What I am attacking is the problem of tribalism, I am attacking the idea that your beliefs, people, culture, and values automatically serve as the ONLY way humans should live their lives. I know that makes it easier for you, but it makes it harder for humankind.

Just because you are a democrat doesn’t mean that a republican is less sensitive to the needs of their fellow man than you are. They just have a different viewpoint on how to help. You could be missing out on a perspective that could be an excellent addition to your own.


At its core, negative tribalism always exhibits a lack of empathy and a lack of understanding. You fail to treat people like people and hear them out. You fail to connect with them as a fellow human because they are no more than a label to you.

We will never evolve, grow, or reach a higher level of understanding until we realize that tribalism and attacking each other over ideological differences does more harm than either side of the very subjects we debate. And the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is right or who is wrong, we still need to get to where we’re going, and we can’t do that if we kill off each other before we discover where “there” is.

Limiting Beliefs


Limiting beliefs are sneaky. They usually show up when we want to move in a direction not allowed by our present paradigms. You only know you are living in the Matrix when you start to challenge the rules of the Matrix. Limiting beliefs are also the proverbial “glass ceilings.” We like to think that there is a glass ceiling, but more often than not, it’s all in our head. Limiting beliefs work hand and hand with misinformation, fear, and passive thinking to form the prisons of the mind we live in every day.


Limiting beliefs encompass our rights, duties, abilities, capabilities, skills, talents, and choices. They are deeply rooted in our self-identity and self-worth. What’s frightening to me is that most people share a set of limiting beliefs that create a feedback loop of general mistrust of humanity. This limiting belief is that we, as humans, are inherently flawed and that there is something outside of us that is responsible for our actions on a collective level. When you dissect this belief, you will see the inherent flaws within it.

First, to say that someone or something is inherently flawed requires the belief that there is a model of perfection that they don’t measure up too. Is anyone perfect? Has anyone ever been perfect? What does it mean to be perfect? People in ancient parables, books, or texts do not count. Define this model of perfection and locate it anywhere in the physical world, past or present. You’ll quickly see that it may be your expectation of perfection that is at the core of limiting beliefs.


Second, after you define your model of perfection, ask a close friend to do the same. You’ll soon find out that we all have a different set of beliefs when it comes to perfection. This thought experiment points to the fact that what we consider as “flaws” vary from person to person.

Most of our limiting beliefs are formulated and reinforced by everyday moments in our lives. Something happens to you. You then proceed to make up a story about how you feel about it, why you believe it happened, and what it means for your life moving forward. Next, you then begin to live as if your story were true.

These stories keep us safe, help understand the chaotic world we live in, and give us anecdotes for how to live our lives going forward. Little do we know that these compelling stories are keeping us from living our lives to the fullest. Instead of fully embracing what happened and moving on, we carry around stories that limit our actions to a particular set of rules that determine our behavior.

We all know the five monkeys in the cage experiment story. The cage experiment consisted of a generation of monkeys that learned the hard way that going for a banana would bring about undesirable results.

That belief was so ingrained in the collective group that once the experimenters placed new monkeys in the cage, they were not allowed to learn the same lessons as the older monkeys. Once the new monkeys attempted to aim for the bananas, they were beaten up by the older monkeys. The older monkeys thought there were doing the new monkeys a favor, letting them know that reaching for the bananas is a bad idea. They were sharing and acting on their limiting beliefs.

Most limiting beliefs are shared amongst our society. They can become so real that precious resources, time, and money are wasted, combating a figment of everyone’s imagination while the real culprits of unrest go unscathed and unaddressed. We wage war against universal evils while forgetting the darkness that lives within every one of us, our limiting beliefs.

Our limiting beliefs may include negative things that we believe about ourselves because a troubled soul scorned us in high school. It may be that we are too old, too young, too unqualified, or not ready for an opportunity. We may see I guy attempt to talk to an attractive woman at the bar and get rejected, so we believe that we too will be rejected if we try to do the same.

Our limiting beliefs may be about what we believe is possible. We may hear that a career opportunity is too hard or easy for us or that we will never fit the culture. Instead of doing our homework and finding out for ourselves, we don’t try and let an opportunity pass by. We allow misinformation, fear, and passive thinking prevail, thereby creating a prison of limiting beliefs.

Overcoming limiting beliefs starts with awareness. We have to be aware of what beliefs are limiting us or if we are limited. Awareness usually comes along with prolonged failure, unwanted criticism, or painful emotional revelation. Hopefully, if you are reading this, you have taken the route of self-reflection and examining your beliefs before life hands you a painful lesson.

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