Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A lesson in humility from COVID-19

One man tried to convince me that the coronavirus mortality rate was much lower than was being reported because people who had pre-existing diseases and died with coronavirus were being listed as death by coronavirus.

Another man tried to convince me that the coronavirus infection rate was much higher than was being reported because many people had only minor symptoms and never reported it.

What I have observed in life – and learned from social science research – is that people build a world view that is between 33-50% accurate; and we fill in the rest with memories from previous, similar experiences. At best – even after two people have lived together for 40 years – our understanding of them is 67-85% accurate. 

That’s 15-33% wrong. We don’t know each other. We don’t really see reality as it is. We’re inventing a huge chunk of it on the fly.

We use this mental-construct of the world to guide our response to the ever-changing, overwhelming changes of the real world: A process called ego. We project our own interpretations onto the world based on our imprecise perspective, and we try to convince other people of the way we see the world. Leaders are good at convincing people that their worldview is the most accurate, when actually it’s just the most popular and most widely shared.

We work hard to impose our inaccurate, ego view of the world on others, and we get upset when someone disagrees. They don’t get it.

Alternatively, we can learn to recognize that there are way too many stimuli in our surroundings for our senses to detect. If our senses could detect all those stimuli, our brains would be overwhelmed. We’d be unable to function.

To prevent that overwhelm, our senses and the brain have evolved to sort through incoming stimuli to select that which is familiar and makes sense: that which fits our narrow worldview. We dismiss the rest – the majority of information. There’s nothing wrong with this, it is natural and normal process.

But we almost never recognize that this is what’s going on. It’s important to recognize that we get overwhelmed, and that we are selective in what we sense in the world. It protects us from information overload, which would disable us. We wouldn’t be able to make sense of the real world without a mental concept to compare it against. We couldn’t survive. We would die.

When we recognize that this is going on and that our understanding is usually 33-50% accurate – 85% at best, after we’ve thought about it – we become better able to accept that there is more going on than we know. When we recognize that there is more going on that we know, We can be more flexible about accepting the utter fluidity of life and other people’s mental constructs for what they are. This is the practice of HUMILITY, which I keep trying to master in a perpetual struggle with my ego, which wants to be king.

So, my questions about the COVID death rate and the COVID infection rate would NOT be, “Are these accurate?” We know they are not. We don’t have enough accurate data to make evaluations.

My questions would be, “Which perspective is best? One that is certain, or one that is humble?” “Who can be certain?” “Can anybody be certain at this point?”

Obviously, there is no certainty; so, humility is in order.

And that’s a lesson in humility that COVID is teaching us ... IF we’re paying attention.  


Also, on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVN2nPE4mUg 
And Anchor.fm: https://anchor.fm/dashboard/episode/ech2f8
And your favorite podcast app. 

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