We, as people, are equipped with tools to sense the environment around us: ears to hear, eyes to see, and nerves to feel. These senses serve us well, allowing us to navigate obstacles and respond to the environment around us.
This does not separate us distinctly from several other vertebrates on this planet, yet we found a way to build cities, fly in airplanes and cure diseases. For this to happen, we had to use more than our natural senses. We had to learn how to reason, and learn that the world we live in was more than what we could see, hear or feel.
One of the challenging aspects of my job is to not accept a loan request based on what it “looks” like; but rather, based on what true facts are underlying the proposal. I need to provide a reasoned argument as to why it is or isn’t a good loan request. Sometimes people think I’m crazy, because what looks like a bad request on the surface may actually be a great opportunity when the facts are checked. Likewise, loan opportunities that look great may be quite weak when the facts are examined.
Our brains are wired to make snap decisions based on limited information. This is well intentioned, because it keeps us from running into walls, falling off cliffs, etc. But those kinds of snap decision didn’t create society as we know it today. That required a slower, more reasoned way of approaching the world. So, to make a loan decision based on snap judgment, would be like starting to impulsively build a home without first checking to make sure the soil was adequate for the project. The facts that are not readily seen still matter and can affect the outcome, so it is better to slowdown the decision making process and make sure all relevant facts are checked.
Television and the internet are pervasive forces in all of our lives, and we may not always realize how much these media sources appeal overwhelmingly to the short-term judgment aspect of our brain, and how they fail to present reasoned arguments. A major aim of most of this media is not necessarily to inform, but rather to sell advertising. Therefore, the main objective is to grab our attention by any means possible, so your attention can be immediately forwarded to the advertisements.
This is why most news headlines seem audacious and extreme, and why anyone who wants to get the attention of news sources must say or do something audacious and extreme. For the average media consumer, it is hard to sort out where the well-reasoned truth is, because every media source is using the same tactic to capture your attention. And they also know, starting a well engaged explanation of the facts detracts from advertising time and may not hold everyone’s attention, so usually that well-reasoned argument isn’t explored.
The other day I heard a comedian on satellite radio ask the question, “When was the last time you saw a real scientist on television?” He talked about how physicists found the subatomic “God Particle” or “Higgs Boson” which can begin to explain why everything in the universe exists. And yet, this discovery received very little, if any, mainstream press. The discovery was simply not provocative enough to compete with whatever sex scandal or outrageous political arguments that were dominating headlines.
The point I seek to address here is this: we need to be careful about what appeals to us emotionally, or what is dominating our senses when we have a serious decision to make. Whether we are making a decision about lending millions of dollars, electing our political leaders, or planning for retirement, we should not be sidetracked by what appears to be the truth based on loud and flashy details. Instead, we owe it to ourselves to calmly review the facts so we can continue to make rational decisions that helped create our impressive society, which will hopefully preserve it too.