Convenient Myths

I truly wonder whether we think critically about anything anymore. All we hear are sound bites and quips to justify a position … stake-out ground … and establish a stand. Sometimes I think we’ve become so totally self-absorbed in our own personal point of view because of the plethora of media that allows us to easily find others who agree with us. There’s a TV channel for every perspective. Overlay on that social media available to validate almost any point of view no matter how absurd. We simply filter out those who disagree with us, dismissing them as wrong, and gleefully immerse ourselves with those of like mind.

This is simply not helpful. We need to lower the amplitude, walk just a bit more humbly, and seek dialogue over dispute for the wellbeing of society. Perhaps we should consider our mutual journey here as an opportunity to work together rather than the kangaroo court all communication seems to have become.

It is ironic that we are all trying to be helpful and yet see mythsuch violent attacks on each other. The Sunday morning news shows are demonstrations of this incivility. Where is the dialogue? Where is the synthesis of truly innovative answers? No one listens … everyone labels and then decides who they will listen to based upon their label. We in fact do judge the book by the cover. We have no tolerance for different points of view. We are all waiting in ambush, and that is why the news cycle is so contentious. They know what to feed us.

So, I came up with a new label that highlights the silliness of where we are: “Convenient Myths.” This is obviously a play on words referencing Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” My point is that his statement is in fact a myth, and a convenient one at that. It is not a fact … it is closer to an ideology than anything else … an idea that takes on a life of its own and becomes more than a story. Sure there is truth in what he has been saying. But, there are also inaccuracies.

How do you separate what you believe to be truth from myth? We think of myth as stories and legends of potentially fictitious characters who say and do things we think are exemplary and emblematic. Some of these myths are so central to what we value as Americans that we might also say we believe in this or that and use these stories to recount our reasons why. But, I suggest we should think critically about the difference between saying something is true vs. saying we believe in it.

Consider the recent issue of Time Magazine where the cover announces: Eat Butter, which flies in the face of the long-held belief that eating fat was bad for us. If you have not yet read it, you really must. For decades we accepted the myth that butter and fats were bad for us. When you read the article, you will see that the primary research neglected cultures having very high amounts of animal fats and butter in their diets (France and Germany) because the data didn’t fit the conclusion the author had wanted to reach. Another recent admission from the doctor who had insisted gluten was a bad actor has also rescinded his position.

clip_image002_051Our culture has a conversational paradox when it calls some things myths yet expresses belief in principles we seem so sure are true. We say we believe in them as if it was pure measurable cause-effect fact-based logic. If I were to say we have a democratic myth in the US you would probably recoil. Yet, if I say we believe in democracy, few if any would argue. I think we would also all say that we find many problems with our democracy, yet we essentially still believe in it.

But, think about how different it sounds to say that global warming is a myth vs. saying you believe in global warming.

Some myths are extremely useful and helpful. Some can limit human potential and certainly outcomes. Myths fall into broad categories: fables, charms, etc. Santa Claus belongs to the fable category, rabbit’s feet to the charm category. Fables often have helpful underlying truths, which is why the newspaper article on whether Santa Clause was true drew such widespread approval (i.e., “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”). Lucky charms are everywhere … you see batters go through rituals and hear of seemingly odd behaviors that can include some truly peculiar things.

So, as opposed to Al Gore’s expression of “An Inconvenient Truth,” which presumes we really know for sure what is going on in the environment, perhaps it is more helpful to express his ideas as what he believes is good for humanity, directionally correct, and economically viable. We all have a lot to learn from each other. But, when we decide we truly know the answer, we are certainly less curious about what we might really not know in the first place.

My next blogs will focus specifically at the critical relationship between energy companies and their regulatory and legislative bodies. Following the way we described education in early childhood, I will present a model for how we can Reload the Regulatory Relationship (the new 3 R’s in my opinion).

But for now, let me close with my son’s favorite soliloquy from the Wizard in the play Wicked about what we say we consider as truth according to what we call history:

“Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history.
A man’s called a traitor or liberator. A rich man’s a thief or philanthropist. Is one a crusader
or ruthless invader? It’s all in which label is able to persist. There are precious few at ease
with moral ambiguities, so we act as though they don’t exist.”

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