Friday, July 31, 2015

Humility, the Path to Sound Judgement and the Way to Avoid Tragedy

I've never been a fan of tragedies. I'm not sure what the Greeks were thinking, but I'm guessing they weren't much fun at parties. It's certainly timeless and true that into every life some tragedy must fall. I've experienced my fair share, so I can speak as an authority. However, the defining theme for a Greek tragedy is that the main character often brings about or multiplies theirs own tragedy. The audience is left to cringe as they watch the slow descent of the hero into craziness and misdirection.

Bad decisions seem to define the tragic hero. Decisions that are so obviously bad to the third party observer, but seemingly so hidden from the protagonist. I think the true tragic character never even recognizes that a decision even existed. C'est la vie, that is life.\

That is why I hate tragedies. Life isn't something that just happens. Our lives are defined by the way we react to tragedies. It's defined by the decisions we make and how we decide to deal with those tragedies. A hero doesn't let a tragedy consume them and drive them into the dirt from which they came. A hero overcomes those tragedies and makes decisions based on experience.

Easily said, much harder to execute. I realize that as well. But the first step in making a decision is recognizing that a decision exists. The first step in making good decisions is recognizing that you can.

I think we often look at a situation and assume that positive outcomes aren't possible, because I'm not the type of person to be that way. I'm not strong. I don't have those opportunities. I don't have the money, the time, or the talent. It's just not who I am. No one decides these things for you. Only you can make those types of decisions and there is no more reason that you should assume the worst than there is that you should assume the best.

All of this has been said a million different ways before so I'm not going to dwell on them. The power of positive thinking and such. What I am going to talk about is one of the key ingredients to making good decisions. Humility.

I've watched plenty of tragic characters make horrible decisions. But one of the most common trait those characters had was a total lack of humility. Humility is such a downplayed virtue, but so key to good decisions in life.

Often times a lack of humility is involved when people are at their best. Tragedy is absent and life is grand. So humility quickly becomes a forgotten virtue.  When you feel like you're winning at life, you credit yourself with that result.  Maybe you're right.  If others feel like you're winning as well, they'll often reinforce that idea.  With social media the situation is even worse.  Likes and hearts make us feel like we're doing something right.  As you become successful, people will actually treat you differently.  Your jokes become funnier, you're more often right than wrong.  Suddenly everything you do is great.

But you're not funny, people just laugh because they want to earn your favor.  And you're definitely not right, they just know that it doesn't matter and they can't win anyways, so they nod and agree.  The trap has been set.  You start to believe your own hype and this is where you start messing up.

If we live in a world where the only outlook is our own, then our perception of the world is heavily skewed. No differing opinions or experiences leaves us isolated and out of touch with reality.  When the time comes that you have to make a decision based on a reality outside of your own, you'll probably make a weird one and not even realize it.

This is why I'm skeptical of career politicians.  If your entire job for the last 10 years is to live in the political world, then there is a very slim chance you have any notion of what my reality is like.  There is little chance you know what it's like to mow your own yard, get pulled over without reason or to clean out the toilet bowl with a plastic brush.  There are exceptions and local politicians are obviously more in touch than national ones, but you get the idea.

Humility teaches us that there are no jobs or experiences that are beneath us.  I don't look down on the person that may do these things for me because I respect them.  I also respect them enough to seek out and listen to their opinion.  Learn from them and make good decisions based on that knowledge.  I listen to everyone around me, the intern or new employee.  The crusty old employee that no one likes.  No one is beneath me and everyone has something I can learn from.  This is the key to making good decisions, but we must be humble to posses it.