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Birds of a Feather Flock Together...
...and so the blind will lead the blind. This thought came into my head today from comments made in passing from a few friends. There are so many good thoughts in this, it seems like it would be a loss to not share the rest of the iceberg with everyone -though I doubt anyone really cares about my philosophical rambles... This is me being emotional and needing to find an outlet. 

Birds of a feather flock together, and so the blind will lead the blind. It's interesting how this statement seems true, but also pessimistic. It is, actually, pessimistic but not in the way it seems prima-facie. The underlying thought is that we share our experiences and thoughts with the people who are around us and who we relate most easily to. We are, after all, mostly lazy humans who feel that we should not have to think too hard about life, since life itself seems hard enough. For our own personal sense of comfort and emotional stability we find it most efficient to relate with people who agree with us and share our common beliefs. 

I have a problem with this type of thinking.

It's not that the thought pattern is all bad. We need to be able to have normal conversation with the people in our lives. The pattern that I want to delve into is in our personal growth. By definition, growth is when we learn something new and add it to ourselves as a belief. Therefore it is our marginal growth which concerns me. I'll use myself as a guinea pig to explore this subject. 

I like finance and economics. This is a well known fact to any of my close friends, and it is probably equally well known that I have a strong tendency to rationalize my emotions through the thought patterns of those two disciplines. For example, when I read a news article about CEO compensation my immediate thoughts are, "well, in comparison to the amount of cash flows the company is generating it really isnt that much, and spread out over all of their employees it wouldn’t make much of a difference if he were to use the cash the compensation in most cases represents a small percentage of the revenue the CEO has generated for his company. Employees under him probably get some kind of compensation equal to his in percentages; he just generates more on the whole." Now, please don’t argue the accuracy of that statement. It is simply an illustration of my initial reaction to a generic argument, which in turn represents my thought processes. 

My thoughts on CEO pay may or may not be correct, but for illustration let’s suppose they are, at least, mathematically correct. Now further the example by putting myself in a corporate setting, or with other people who generally agree with my beliefs. Chances are we will get along quite well, maybe make fun of people who don’t understand cash flows, and continue to propagate our beliefs that CEO pay compensation is on track and generally fair (so long as the CEO is not dappling with moral hazard, such as the case with AIG and other controversial companies). However, it is important to realize for us that our perspective, while mathematically correct (assumed) and justifiable, my not take into account other important variables which could alter our beliefs of what is good or morally correct. Being birds of a feather, we will tend to band together and transfer thoughts amongst ourselves and come to conclusions formed from a common knowledge base.

This example is, again, generic and can be applied to any social group. The issue that needs to be resolved is what to do about it? My answer: fly with a different flock for a while.

The answers formed by our peer groups will only answer certain questions, and at that they may be insufficient. Meanwhile, whole questions may be neglected to be asked simply out of ignorance, or ignorant answers will be given to mis-understood questions. Engaging in a downward spiral of basing beliefs off of bad answers formed from mis-understood questions can only lead to confusion and unhappiness.

Assuming the world’s population can be roughly described under a normal distribution curve, meaning that for every extremist christian there is an equal probability of an extreme atheist, it can be assumed that for every belief that we have someone else holds the opposite. Further, there are billions of people in the world, and at least several million are very smart people, each working towards whatever goals he may have. Using religion as an example, the atheist will try to propagate the belief that god is magical thinking, and the christian will try to convert everyone to christianity. With so many people on each side of the median thinking about the moral implications of their beliefs, a few of them are bound to have some good ideas on both sides, and equally, each will neglect to fully understand the perspective of the people on the other side of the median.

Now comes the punch line. While each works towards his own goals, surrounding himself with people who have the same beliefs, he may tend to become more extreme in his views, or create support for someone who is already more extreme. I will argue that anything, or anyone, held in an extreme position will act erratically, or at the least, act irrationally simply because he doesn’t have the answers, or questions, that his "opposition" provides, and which he needs to act rationally.

In order to act rationally within the data set of possible beliefs, one must constantly seek and figure out how to use answers from both sides of each argument, with theoretically as little emotional attachment as possible to one or the other.

My argument is that with this thinking in mind we will be more likely to first look to completely understand people who are different from us, and then incorporate their answers into our beliefs in a way which facilitates peace, and personal contentedness.


I'm assuming a long run view on thoughts dealing with probability to account for the law of large numbers

I realize that this is on the whole asking a lot of society and would never actually come to fruition. But it is at least a personal goal to strive for.
Christopher -

You should come hang out with me - I hate finance and economics - it would give you a start on talking to someone with a completely different point of view. :)  And then maybe I would learn to pay attention to cash flows and CEO compensation. 

More seriously, though, I think you are right.  (Not about the CEO thing; on that I have no opinion.)  Even the most open-minded person cannot push herself past certain limits if she stays within groups of other people who are like-minded in their opinions.  Of course, a person can read a wide variety of opinions, but my experience is that unless you have people to talk to about it, very rarely does a one-sided written argument really change your thinking.  It's the dialogue, the arguing, that works on you.  And I don't think that the goal is to change your opinion, necessarily; it's to stretch your understanding of the issue so that you can see it from other angles.  When you are forced to support your opinions in the face of disagreement, you find out what you really believe.

I changed my original wording in the previous paragraph (I had originally said that written arguments don't change your thinking); I added "one-sided" because, of course, everything here on ThinqOn is written, and yet the dialogues in which I have participated have helped me push my boundaries (I even talked politics for awhile, and I like politics even less than I like economics!)  and seen things from very, very different perspectives.  I think, though, that it is important to look for opportunities to stretch oneself in all venues - work, socially, religiously, even in one's hobbies. 

I think the key idea, though, is to expose yourself to a wide VARIETY of opinions - not just your polar opposite (and to maintain close ties to your own "flock" - you need to have a place to go when you need to take a break from being constantly challenged).  I live in a very homogeneous community, and my viewpoints lean toward the opposite pole of those held by the people in my social circles.  I can find plenty of people with whom I disagree; it's trying to find a third and fourth and fifth viewpoint that is difficult.

In response to Jackie Pugh
I think this is one of the key lines to remember when flying with birds of another feather:

"and to maintain close ties to your own "flock" - you need to have a place to go when you need to take a break from being constantly challenged"

It's important for people to branch out and challenge their thinking in order to grow as individuals but we always need a safe, comfortable place to return to or the constant challenges would wear us down.

One more point I want to share on this topic is something I picked up from college and relates to jobs (the ones you work at, not the ones named Steve).  It was a piece of advice that went something like this: "The time to find a new job is when you're no longer learning anything new"

I think you could apply that just as equally to flying with "birds of another feather".  When you find yourself surrounded by nothing but like-minded individuals, it's time to expand your horizons outside of your flock and challenge yourself
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Latest Post: March 14, 2011 at 1:53 PM
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