I gave up playing Bridge. Bridge was one of the few card games my family would play as a family, well four of the five of us at a time, of course. We played it as a game. I was the youngest by years and decades, but it was a game, not a competition. When I moved out and starting playing during lunch at Boeing, the fun was gone. People would move onto the next deal after three or four hands because they ‘knew’ how it would turn out. They hadn’t actually seen how it would be played; they just ‘knew’ who would win. There’s a danger in such leaps that extend far beyond card tables.
I’m a fan of logic, data, and reason; but those can also become academic. Life isn’t academic. Life is real. I prefer to see how things play out.
During those card games I could follow their logic about why their bid for 3 hearts would succeed. Everyone agreed. Except contrarian me. Sure, if everything was played correctly and no one made a mistake then that was the way the game would go. But we’re humans. Someone could get distracted, or become over-confident, or find a tactic they’d never considered. The game would change.
You know I’m going to expand this to other topics because this blog isn’t about playing games.
I’m seeing this in the news. I’m seeing the tendency to extrapolate snippets into chapters and books. Anecdotes are amplified as if they were massive movements. Sometimes I hear someone reading between the lines when there are no lines. This is worse than during the Cold War when the CIA would try to guess at what was happening in the Kremlin based on which cars were driving around or not. Finance types frequently tried to decipher Alan Greenspan’s intent by how thick his briefcase was as he walked into Congressional hearings to talk about finance. Sure, we have to look ahead, but the Berlin Wall fell because of things that happened outside Moscow and the Great Recession’s main arena was households, not Senate chambers.
It is one reason I don’t pay as much attention to single news sources, anymore. There are things that I can’t experience directly; but I don’t expect one perspective to produce a complete picture.
As a kid in grammar school I happened to be beside, not in, a race riot – or at least a fight in a high school gymnasium between an all-white school and an all-black school. My Dad made sure I was safe. From that one perspective, it looked like a lot of violent people. There were injustices and abuses. But a few years later I worked in a more mixed group in the steel mill without any incident. There was work to be done and we were there to get paid, not fight.
As a teenager in high school I heard the steel industry’s catch phrase regarding pollution, “The Smell of Progress.” About that time is when one of my brothers introduced me to photography. I borrowed his camera, hiked around a polluted hillside downwind of a mill, and saw for myself how discarded steel was flaking away in inch-thick bands as acids in the air corroded the refuse and the street signs and the steel in the bridgework that I walked across to visit the site. It was my first photo essay. Now I get to hear “The Sound of Freedom”, jet noise over 100db from Navy practice flights over Central Whidbey Island. ‘Hear’ is the wrong word. I feel my chest vibrate while I have to cover my ears to stifle the pain takes longer to type, though.
News reports make similar word choices to make articles fit into a few column inches, a web page that isn’t tl;dr (Too Long: Didn’t Read), or at most a few minutes of a broadcast or podcast.
Do not just look for what you were told to find. If it is important, find it yourself. And don’t hurt yourself by trying to understand it all. There’s too much going on. This is 2020. I think it is impossible for anyone to know it all, and if they say they know it all, I know they don’t. Some celebrity that thinks the world is all about them lives in a very small world. I pity them.
Personal experience is valuable. It is why I was willing to attend stockholders’ meetings. Dull? Sure. But personal finance is non-trivial in this society and economy – unless your personal finances are so significant that you can treat them trivially. By showing up I saw who else showed up, whether that was officials, finance types, employees, other shareholders, etc. During the presentation I’d mark which statements made people react during what should be dull and innocuous. Then, if I was interested enough, I could ask them and maybe some others about the same thing. My favorite was hearing the CEO celebrate that a new product generated over $1M in revenue. A sales manager suddenly sat up straighter. Later I asked him about it. He said he was glad to hear about it – because it was his product line and it was news to him. That CEO left soon after, and not just because of that.
Prepare yourself for an understatement. This year has been bizarre. Many of the things we’re dealing with were largely unexpected. Wildfires in the western US. A warehouse explodes in Lebanon. Real life sequels to what we thought was resolved in 1865 and 1945. The pandemic. Yes, each has people who were pointing them out years and decades ago; but I doubt the majority expected them to become so dominant this year.
Given the choice, forget the leaders and remember each other. We’re all in this together (until we colonize another planet). We need each other, now. I care more about whether those around me are wearing masks, or recycling, or finding ways to get by without fossil fuels. Of course I want leaders who will lead those efforts, but pronouncements are like bids in Bridge. They describe intent, but can only be proved by action.
I am fortunate. I have friends who have the courage to dive in, to work with the homeless, to grow and buy and eat organic, to work on sustainability, to try to correct injustices. They are the front line people who aren’t hunting for headlines; they’re trying to get something done. I’m also fortunate enough to know a variety of people who represent a variety of perspectives. I don’t agree with them all, but I learn a lot by listening and watching.
Skip the assumptions and the stereotypes. What have you seen, personally? Look around and it is easy to find differences, but we’re all human and therefore have similarities. I look forward to seeing and hearing about people concentrating on what we have in common. Construction is much more difficult than destruction, but is is also far more valuable.