I’ve often commented that I, and most Baby Boomers in my situation, were born at a fortunate time and place and to parents who, from their experiences in life (Great Depression, WWII, Post-War recovery) were well suited to teach me the ways of life.
My early education was at a public grade school that was so well thought of that even the private school kids stayed there until high school. Dwight Eisenhower’s picture was on the principal’s office wall. It was Mayberry RFD, in a rural area of New Jersey.
I worked as a proud safety patrol officer at a crosswalk on the way to school next to the local police sergeant every day. Far from Barney Fife, this WWII veteran was both friendly and firm.
We pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America every morning.
The janitor handed us our milk as we went through the cafeteria line for lunch every day, and we acknowledged whomever’s mom was volunteering that day.
In the summer after breakfast, we would jump on our bikes and not be seen at home again until dinner time. Our parents were never concerned.
Get the picture?
We felt the aura of safety. Our parents, who had just come through 20 of the toughest years of our nation’s history, made sure we experienced neither uncertainty or fear.
In other words, they lied to us.
We were kept warm in our comfortable cocoons. Well maybe they didn’t lie to us, but they did not share all information with us. Like the part about life being tough from time to time. Or bad things happening to good people. Or politicians not being forthcoming and factual. Or domestic abuse. Or history books (written by the winners of war, of course) not disclosing fully or accurately. Or the American caste system.
All I’ve been taught since I was a child has prompted me to make decisions about how life works. How the world works. Where and how I fit in. I teach in my coaching that these experiences basically form the being. These prejudices and “rules of life” can be seen in one’s DISC or Myers-Briggs (or other) inventories of behavior predictors.
At best they are the teacher’s (or other authority’s) opinion of reality. And maybe even their opinion of another’s opinion.
As time went by and I grew out of my idyllic upbringing, I learned what was really happening. A 14-year-old classmate had been raped. A teacher’s daughter had committed suicide with the help of her younger brother. Eisenhower had a girlfriend. A village politician blew his brains out and a close family friend hit on my mom. See? Life was not all as rosy as originally perceived.
My training and experience now tells me that we make decisions about these so-called rules of life and pretty much keep them until some new piece of data comes along that’s compelling enough to make us reverse our original decisions. (Generally we don’t want to change our perceptions so we have a strong tendency to stick with our understanding of the situation—again, of course, unless the new information is accepted. Sometimes we also accept new inaccurate data before again deciding how life works.
So what are the chances that everything you know that constitutes your values and behavior, responses, judgments of right and wrong, beauty, and kindness all come from decisions made from data that is either inaccurate or at least incomplete?
I now concede that my rule set for life in general, though also based on the opinions of others, has generally served me well. And along the way I’ve recognized that much of the missing or inaccurate data has not served me or my path well. Frankly, I keep a lot of my prejudices and judgments internal and most are not called upon for my day-to-day functioning, so I’m not particularly motivated to change them even when I know they’re off base.
But every once in a while, I’m confronted by a situation that forces me to look at my normal, everyday reactions and to doubt. And then open my mind up to new data. But the older I get, the more difficult that is to do. And today’s political and social environments have me doubting and testing and shifting because, in general, I’ve been lied to. And you too.
We’re still being lied to, so let’s stay on our toes! Be OK with doubting that our perceptions are reality and remain open to changing them.