For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a metropolis of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way from my small hometown in south-central Missouri, on the Little Dry Fork Creek. Depending on how loosely you define “city”, one could argue that CQ is the world’s largest city. It is, indisputably, a megacity, and a lovely one. Despite this urbane setting, I pursue a simple life. Accordingly, I publish these observations and admonitions from my 18th-Floor Homestead.
Business and Publishing Updates:
Current status: I feel 95% recovered from the surgery, but only about 80% of my previous energy level. After 8 weeks with no problems since the surgery, the numbers are on my side. The doctor wants me to return for a CT scan soon to make sure everything is where it should be and doing what it should be doing. It will be nice to get confirmation of a successful surgery.
Mind Fleet: After a deferred launch while I took a few weeks of medical vacation, Mind Fleet is back and open for business. In early September, CS and I were interviewed by Xinhua news and iChongqing.info. This was the day before the doctors ambushed me with some very bad news. Post-surgery, that iChongqing interview was reently concluded at our Mind Fleet office in the Free Trade Zone of the Yubei District. The resulting article and accompanying video by Jorah Kai Wood, noted local author, journalist, and foreign teacher, was released. Check it out for a fuller understanding of the company, Mind Fleet (mindfleet.cn), our products, and our relationship with the English company Postcards From Space (postcardsfromspace.co.uk).
Success Mindsets: The business entrepreneur anthology, Success Mindsets, I contributed to was released on October 26 and is working its way up the Amazon bestseller charts. After two weeks, it was already listed by Amazon as:
- #272 in Entrepreneurship (Kindle Store)
- #981 in Entrepreneurship (Books)
Figures for paper sales are not available yet – another advantage of going digital is faster feedback – but this publisher has a history of rising to the top of the best-seller lists. Check it out on Amazon.com at
Foibles, Blind Spots, and Demons;
Why We Do the Dumb Things We Do
The claim has been made that Man is the rational animal; he is capable of thinking and imagining and connecting causes with effects. No, some wit insists, Man is the rationalizing animal. There is lots of evidence, in this age of immediate gratification, instant credit, and bizarre online groups, for that point of view also. But let’s take a deeper, more serious look at why the people around us – but never us, goodness, no! – do some of the dumb, short-sighted, self-destructive things that create so much havoc, confusion, expense, and pain in our otherwise serene and logic-based lives.
Foibles. Foibles are rather innocent idiosyncratic behaviors that make us unique and distinctive, maybe even, at times, venturing over the line to eccentric. Some people even take pride in their foibles, like always wearing a bowtie or carrying a pocket watch while the rest of us bumble along in more conventional attire. A lucky fishing hat? What’s wrong with a lucky fishing hat? And what’s wrong with wearing it when I go on the bus?
Sometimes foibles are the result of some childhood incident that was memorable but not traumatic. Example: I lost my billfold during a wild, teenage nighttime ride in a ’56 Chevy, which lead to the subsequent search along a lonely country road the following morning. This led to the foible of carrying my billfold in the front pocket of my jeans. For years, every time I got dressed and put my billfold in my front pocket, I was reminded of that humiliating and potentially disastrous consequence of youthful high spirits.
Another common foible is when we repeat something until it becomes a ritual, then are unable to free ourselves from that ritual. My morning routine is quite lengthy. It began as a rational response to my tendency to forget some little details when I rush. This sequence evolved over many years and while living at many addresses. The list gradually came to include over 50 memorized items which I repeated each morning. Every day features the same smooth, unvarying, and efficient checklist, the silent invocation of which has become a foible. The problem is that our memory sometimes works against us. Since we may occasionally add new items to our lists but we never remove from them, many of those items on my morning list are now redundant, only prompting wistful memories of past years, other houses, and lost partners as I rush past them sotto voce. Even today, at the very end of it, I never leave home without repeating my out-the-door checklist. My silent mantra, accompanying a momentary pause at the front door: cash, cell, keys, glasses, sunglasses or umbrella, Kindle. On the other hand, it has been years since I locked myself out of the house. A win for the foibles.
Generally, foibles are harmless; hardly worth the trouble to explain or change. When examined closely to trace their origins, they make us smile ruefully as we recall bittersweet memories. If you want to make a stranger into a friend, find a nice way to ask them about their foibles. “I see you attach a lot of importance to your lucky fishing hat. Is there a story behind the lucky fishing hat?”
Blind Spots. Blind Spots are a little more serious. What makes a blind spot dangerous is that we are unable to see our own blind spots. How are we to control or eliminate something we are not aware of? A blind spot in a car can lead to a traffic accident; a blind spot in your self-image can also lead to an unfortunate incident, often repeatedly. Like foibles, blind spots frequently originate from a childhood experience or deprivation. Unconsciously, people with blind spot behaviors are trying to fill a deep need. A certain circumstance invariably triggers an automatic response. Sadly, their blind spot response is usually a very poor and inefficient way of addressing that deep need. Yet, it continues throughout their adult life, waiting for the next time that same circumstance is encountered.
Those who are victims of such an unproductive – often, counterproductive – response to a particular situation will, if pressed, admit it is a high-risk activity with a very, very low probability of success. (Plus, such behaviors come with a significant potential downside. That is where a blind spot differs from a foible. Unless you insist on wearing it at a formal dinner, your lucky fishing hat isn’t likely to cause problems or offense.) However, with blind spot responses, there is an occasional success. Psychologists who study conditioning methods call it “irregular reinforcement”. People with blind spots receive great satisfaction from this reward on those rare occasions of success. They are still filling an unmet need – albeit momentarily.
How can you identify a blind spot in another? The behavior might be seen, literally, in gambling in a casino where the house always wins… but compulsive gamblers flock to the casinos, lose their money, and rationalize it as entertainment. In other people, blind spots might take the form of high-risk behaviors that confront authority or flout conventions. Socially unacceptable behaviors or a compulsion to dress to attract attention are common examples of blind spots. “Nobody can tell me I have to wait!” or “Nobody can tell me I can’t do this!” are two verbal clues indicating the presence of blind spots.
There are probably valid reasons behind those rules about to be broken or conventions flouted, but the blind spot rule-breaker derives a momentary burst of satisfaction from asserting their independence… while quietly hoping to avoid the consequences. The irregular reinforcement comes when they successfully challenge established rules then evade any penalty. A big part of the satisfaction is from not being penalized. Usually, this victory is accompanied by loud public proclamations or new tattoos. But those victories are rare; the usual results (failure and mild-to-acute embarrassment) are instantly forgotten the next time the blind spot triggers are encountered.
Maybe the most painful form of blind spots are romantic. Read the word “kryptonite” and what image do you get? We see poor Superman being brought to his knees by kryptonite, the only element that can weaken him. Now read the words, “She’s his kryptonite.” You will probably visualize some poor sap in a romantic quest with a girl in a relationship which is obviously an accident waiting to happen. To everyone else, he is clearly bound toward a disastrous outcome – but he is unable to stop himself. He is heading for almost certain failure, perhaps with painful or expensive consequences but he cannot resist the allure of her kryptonite. This is where rationalizations come into the picture. He plunges ahead once more, defying the odds and hoping that this time will be different. Even if he dodges the consequences bullet on this new occasion, he has learned nothing from his near-miss. He remains unable to resist the temptation the next time he encounters the same set of circumstances. It seems even bitter experience will not change his automatic response when he encounters kryptonite again.
If insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over… and expecting different results the next time, then a blind spot is doing the same thing over and over, even when the chances of success are about the same as being rained on next Tuesday afternoon at exactly 3 PM. Harold Blaisdell examined this phenomena closely and used such descriptive phrases as “… why are they drawn to a [situation] so patently anomalous when they are so often alarmed by anything strange of different?”, “awakening compulsive passions”, and “this mysterious vulnerability”. But Blaisdell was no more able than I to ascribe the cures for those blind spots.
Sadly, the downside consequences of many blind spot behaviors can be serious. Even more sad, they are easily foreseen – foreseen, that is, to everyone but the person with the blind spot. Irregular reinforcement is highly effective at deeply imprinting a behavior that will be repeated every time the blind spot victims get in the same situation.
Demons. Now, we are getting into something much more serious; close to but not quite traumatic. Demons are behaviors that often go all the way back to infancy; they affect our choices and actions because they skew our values and perceptions. Demons arise when we have an urgent unmet need from the people and environment around us. We may not clearly remember the words and behaviors of others from early childhood but they deeply shaped our personality when we were most vulnerable. Remember that a child’s worst nightmare is of being abandoned by the very persons who are essential for its survival. A predictable response to the feeling of abandonment is that compensatory behaviors, driven by their internal demons, will then appear, extending into their adult life.
“He’s his own worst enemy,”, “He can’t help himself. That’s just the way he is,”, and “He’s always been that way,” are describing someone who is busy fighting with his inner demons while ignoring real-world opportunities in the present moment. What about the person with a long history of failed relationships? Is this not an indicator that, for that person, attempting to placate their demons is a more powerful force than nurturing healthy relationships? After the daily battles with their demons, perhaps they don’t have any emotional energy left for contributing to healthy relationships. Example: the girl who is an emotional black hole, who can never feel secure in a relationship but requires constant proof of someone’s love. Often she becomes a stereotypical damsel in distress, just waiting for another Prince Charming to come and rescue her. Another example: A father who neglects his family because of a headlong pursuit of financial success may appear to have warped values. But in actuality, he is more likely to be engaged in a daily internal struggle with his demon. The demon dangles in his subconscious mind the images of poverty, danger, inferiority, or some other childhood condition that father is desperately hoping to avoid as an adult. He cannot rid himself of that childhood terror. In such cases, “the child is father to the man” and such adults are unlikely to be approachable with calm reasoning. Their demons may be invisible but they speak very loudly. They override the powers of logic and persuasion by others.
Please note that, understanding the forces that drive some people to make dumb decisions – but not us, goodness, no! – does not excuse the adult from the responsibility of their dumb decisions and subsequent behaviors. We are still accountable for our actions, even if our motivations are now clear.
Foibles, blind spots, and demons, they’re everywhere. So, what can you do about this Big Three forms of descending rationalizations? If you engage in some dispassionate self-examination, you may identify and explain some of your own dumb decisions. What are some responses you inevitably repeat each time you get in the same situation? Hint: if this after-action self-talk sounds familiar: “How’d ya do this time?… About the same as last time,” then you have identified yourself as a carrier.
If you look at the people around you objectively, you can spot their foibles, blind spots, and demons. Really, you can find them sprinkled liberally throughout your universe of relationships. You may not be able to help those people but you can better understand them. And now you know not to stand too near Ground Zero when those blind spots or demons kick in to start driving their victims on a course to self-destruction… again.
A final thought: Here is something (unattributed) which I saw on the internet recently. I offer this list of seven things you can control.
What you consume
How you react to situations
Who you surround yourself with
What you think and believe
How you spend your time
How you want your world to be
How you speak to yourself and others
By implication, things we cannot control should not be dominating our time and attention. Things we cannot control: Just about everything else. So why do you persist in trying?
Here is another good place to begin your self-examination:
YOU ARE THE AVERAGE OF THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU SPEND THE MOST TIME WITH. – JIM ROHN
Is there someone you should add to or remove from the people you spend the most time with?