The older I get, the dumber I get

January 9, 2012 — Leave a comment

Before you send me any mean emails, I do believe there is much wisdom gained through age, and this is more of a cautionary article.  Enjoy!

At first glance, my slowing mental faculties could be easily blamed on a variety of things.  Inhaling too many chemicals while renovating our house, living in New Orleans (and enjoying all of the New Orleans type things), or simply age.  However, there could be something more at play.

In fact, I’m going to make a crazy statement and say I was smartest at birth!  Hear me out… it is only then the mind isn’t walled off and contained by the ‘truths’ that we learn.  As John Taylor Gatto said, “Invention is the providence of youthful insight.”

Children ask ‘why’ to discover more about the world and attempt to define their limits.  Unfortunately, these attempts are too often answered by assuming adults and usually translated by the asker into the final word.

As we grow up, we are taught the lessons of life from our social circle; including our families, friends, teachers, and other adult influences. We are taught what they know and believe. I’ve already pointed out five things we don’t learn in school – I’m sure you could do more.

We’re taught what to expect from life, how to handle money, and what constitutes a good job. Their challenges and biases in life are imprinted in our own minds, and we learn to approach life the same way.

Their racism becomes our racism, and their hate becomes our hate. Why else would such a close-minded thing such as racism continue? It’s not passed down in our genes.

It’s not all hopeless as we are able to break free of these thoughts if we put effort into it. We are all unique and our social circle doesn’t influence everything. In fact, their loves don’t always become our loves and that’s one of the hardest parts to comprehend. We are all unique and have different personalities and passions.

Sometimes I can’t understand why people don’t love crunching numbers in Excel or reading books about genes! The answer is usually they aren’t nerds like me, so I’ll just learn to appreciate that!

We can have our own passions, but minds get closed with the assistance of those around us and the more we learn the dumber we sometimes become. The ironic part is that we get dumber while thinking we get smarter.

We use sayings such as: “This is the way it’s always been” and “because I said so” to act as if we’re an authority on the subject. We also learn to accept these answers from others and not question them. Don’t get me wrong, there are advantages to learning from others, and we can get far in life by listening to the right ones.

In his book Influence: The Psychology of Behavior, Robert Cialdini explains the genetic benefits of accepting this wisdom:

“Conforming to the dictates of authority figures has always had genuine practical advantages for us. Early on, these people (for example, parents teachers) knew more than we did, and we found that taking their advice proved beneficial – partly because of their greater wisdom and partly because they controlled our rewards and punishments. As adults, the same benefits persist for the same reasons, though the authority figures now appear as employers, judges, and government leaders. Because their positions speak of superior access to information and power, it makes great sense to comply with wishes of properly constituted authorities. It makes so much sense, in fact, that we often do so when it makes no sense at all.”

Listening to others to form our beliefs can make us lazy because we stop exploring for deeper answers outside of what we rely on from them. Life is easier that way. As we get older, we become even more set in our ways and refuse to question the “answers we already know.”

How can we combat assumptions becoming the end answer?

Many of the brilliant minds in the world got that way by breaking down their mental models and attempting to discover more. This is something Charlie Munger talks about a lot in my favorite book, Poor Charlie’s Almanack. He considers himself a learning machine and even believes learning is a moral duty.

Munger’s method is the typical Western world answer… digging deep and making new discoveries through reading and self assessment. You could also take the more Eastern philosophy route such as Buddhism or Hinduism which is done by observation and discovering the truths through discovering one’s self.

We must understand our current position and figure out how we got there. It is only then that we can begin to change and improve as needed. Take a look at your assumptions in life and begin to question them. Why do you think what you think?

There you go New Orleans, I’ve convinced myself that you’re not the sole reason I’m getting dumber. Good thing too, because Mardi Gras is just around the corner! What assumptions are holding you back? Will you challenge your current assumptions?

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