While visiting Winnipeg for Christmas, I stopped at the downtown McNally Robinson store and looked at a copy of Don’t Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking, by Thomas E. Kida. I did not need to buy this book, but I thought it addressed some key things that contribute to bad judgment.
The published entry for this book at Amazon says:
Do you believe that you can consistently beat the stock market if you put in the effort? —that some people have extrasensory perception? —that crime and drug abuse in America are on the rise? Many people hold one or more of these beliefs although research shows that they are not true. And it’s no wonder since advertising and some among the media promote these and many more questionable notions. Although our creative problem-solving capacity is what has made humans the successful species we are, our brains are prone to certain kinds of errors that only careful critical thinking can correct. This enlightening book discusses how to recognize faulty thinking and develop the necessary skills to become a more effective problem solver. Author Thomas Kida identifies “the six-pack of problems” that leads many of us unconsciously to accept false ideas:
· We prefer stories to statistics.
· We seek to confirm, not to question, our ideas.
· We rarely appreciate the role of chance and coincidence in shaping events.
· We sometimes misperceive the world around us.
· We tend to oversimplify our thinking.
· Our memories are often inaccurate.
Some of these problems, particularly the preference for stories to statistics and confirming ideas, are intrinsic in the way that people rely on other people to tune their behaviour, language and thought to what other people are doing and saying. It is easy to engage in odd behaviour and to express odd beliefs if you are in a supportive group – it becomes difficult not to. I think this also relates to the way that people who want other people to do something for them have to establish a trusting relationship in order to influence their behaviour. We tend to treat the process of building trust differently, depending on context. We condemn the pedophile, the seducer or the confidence artist who groom their victims. We tolerate the process of advertising and selling marketed commodities and manipulating public opinion and taste. We tolerate the storyteller selling a book or the therapist or priest selling advice on how to live. All of them however manipulate empathy and sociability to their own purposes.