Life is short, and humans are silly.
By March 5, 2023– Published on
I have a good friend who lives in the same town as me. He’s lived here since it was just loggers and rock climbers, a salt-of-the-earth type of human. He’s a successful entrepreneur and has made quite a bit of money, but despite this, he’s the same old mountain boy he’s always been. He was recently in Las Vegas for work, surrounded by flash and imagery. While on his way to meet a lady for dinner, he stopped to look at his reflection and saw a man wearing a worn, camouflage fleece staring back at him. Reflecting on the beautifully dressed people passing him by, he walked into an Armani store and, on a whim, bought a $3000 coat.
We had dinner last night, and he retold me the story. “I have no idea what happened in my mind. At that moment, it was so clear - it was time for me to upgrade my wardrobe! I can afford it, deserve it, and want to look good!” He laughed. “I got home, put the coat in my closet and will probably never wear it again.” Sitting before me, he was back in his old camouflage fleece.
But that evening in Vegas, he knew he was making the right call. He wasn’t drunk. He doesn’t drink. His surroundings altered his mind.
I get it. When I’m at home, I know I need a truck. But, after a few nights in Vancouver, I clearly need a BMW i8. Our surroundings are powerful.
My environment and experiences are what form me. Some I choose and control, but many are serendipitous. I am primarily formed from objective randomness. I could have been born in your neighbourhood, gone to your school, grown up with your friends, and had parents like yours, and I would have turned into something very different than I am today.
If I am a consequence of randomness, then so are most others. If I had walked in your shoes, I would think as you do, but I didn’t. I walked in my shoes. So I think like I do. In this sense, you are a different version of me, and I am a different version of you.
There are eight billion versions of us walking around today.
And everybody is going through it. Everybody is struggling, dreaming, working, worrying, being let down and falling in love. Everyone is going through it.
We like people and things to fit into neat little boxes, easy to define and explain. We are quick to label people, and people are quick to label themselves. We pick a box based on one thing and then align the rest of our views accordingly.
A procrustean bed of ideology.
Procrustes, in Greek mythology, was the keeper of an inn on Mount Korydallos. When weary travellers looking for a place to rest would come by, Procrustes would compel them into his bed.
If the traveller were too short for the bed, Procrustes would stretch their limbs with hammers and racks. If they were too tall, he would chop and saw them down. Either way, the guest would die so Procrustes could achieve the perfect fit.
Procrustes’ tale is analogous to forfeiting our life in order to fit in.
In 2003, Stanford University gathered voters for an experiment on group influence.
First, they gathered a group of self-identified Republican voters. They showed them all the same piece of political policy on welfare reform. Overwhelmingly, the group supported it. A second group of self-identified Republican voters were then shown the same policy, but this time it was introduced as a Democratic idea. The group voted overwhelmingly opposed to the same piece of policy.
The study was then repeated with Democratic voters, with the same result.
Not shockingly, the study showed that, consistently, group influence trumps critical thought.
Following the exam, the voters were led through a questionnaire to explain how they came to their conclusions. Voters commonly referenced the “details of the policy” and “personal experience with the issue” as the key reasons. However, in reality, voters subconsciously altered their values to fit their political alliance.
We don’t need Procrustes; we will chop off our own limbs to fit the bed.
We tend to believe we are objective and free of bias, but more frequently, we are blind to these influences. What we say, think and do is subject to our surroundings more than we care to acknowledge.
I mention all of this to display how arbitrary our belief systems are, yet we fight over them all the time.
It is hard work to tolerate ideas and people we find offensive. But if we can step back and observe the capricious nature of our identities and core beliefs, we might laugh it all off.
As hard as tolerance can be, it is intolerance that costs us.
Recently a friend asked me what motivates me to write a weekly essay. I told her it is my method for processing the world around me. There are aspects of my personality that I would like to evolve - for example, when I become triggered by an idea or individual who is participating in something I don’t like.
I often write about strengthening my mind and building immunity to impulsive reactions. One method of this is to become more tolerant of those around me.
She responded that not everybody deserves tolerance. Think of cruel dictators, criminals and various nefarious characters.
I agreed with her, with the caveat that unless I was willing to invest my life into reforming the thing I found offensive, then I needed to let it be; otherwise, it was just taking up valuable space in my brain. If you find something or someone intolerable but are not planning to take action, why would you gift valuable mental real estate?
Tolerance to me means to live and let live. Laissez-faire. Not just for the benefit of someone else, but for the benefit of yourself.
I am an investor. But I don’t write about managing money, I write about managing my mind. It is without question the most important tool in every investor's tool-belt.