As 2021 begins, take a hard look at evidence and don’t believe everything you’re told
When I used to play in the stock market, I would tout stocks to friends.
I touted a stock called “Ants” in the ’90s, and it went up and up. I told friends about it. Some of them took the ride up with me. One day, it made me a millionaire!
I told my friends, “Don’t sell.” I didn’t sell. The next day I was a 3/4 millionaire. The next day I was a 1/10 millionaire — and so on.
Fortunately, not all of my friends listened to me about not selling. One friend got a new Mercedes out of the deal.
Earlier in my brilliant investing career, I bought a stock which my broker (in the days when we had stockbrokers) told me about — a Canadian company that sold electric ice skate sharpeners for the home. I kid you not. But it gets better. The company was branching out into transforming fish skins into clothing, using some magical treatment or process, I guess. I bought some stock!
But then, I thought it over and got out of the stock. I told a friend, who bought it on my suggestion, to sell.
He said, “No, I looked into it, and I’m going to stay with it.” How stupid he was, not to recognize the stupidity of holding on to a stock I thought was brilliant two weeks earlier!
Why do people hang on to a story or belief that, with time, begins to look more and more fishy?
Answer: because to question it means we might actually have to change our mind! If I give up this story now, wouldn’t that be an admission that I was being stupid all the time I believed it?
Woody Allen demonstrated this very clearly in one of his jokes: A man leaned too far over a balcony railing and fell to the floor below.
He wasn’t badly injured, so he got up, went back up to the balcony and fell out again on purpose! When questioned, he said that he didn’t want people to think that the first time he fell was an accident.
Yet we go through life holding on to a lot of ideas and beliefs, even when we start to get clues or inklings that they are fishy, not totally true.
Tip: Not everything we were told by our parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, school chums, educators, city, state, country, political party, religion, media and the internet is necessarily true.
When we were in the womb and infants, it was OK to soak everything in because we had no choice. It is the way we are constructed.
But as we grow up, the ability to think critically develops as well. It includes the “wait a minute” response, which pulls us back when something new doesn’t quite fit with something we already know, or think we know.
Do we always go with what we “know” instead of inquiring into what is new?
I love to say stupid things to my preschool grandchildren to see if they can catch me at it. (My wife catches me frequently.)
Why do we keep falling out of the balcony over and over? Why do we hold on to old ideas — or ants or fish skin stocks — when more and more evidence says: Perhaps you should question this?
I think fear is the underlying reason: “I have known this for eight months or eight years or 80 years. If I question it now, it means that a lot of my other beliefs connected with this may be faulty as well.”
Questioning a belief may be the shaking of the foundations. If one brick falls, then the whole structure may fall. It’s scary! That’s why we prefer not to question.
The new year is a good time to take stock, both of our stock portfolios and our political portfolios. What little piece of your political party story is maybe starting to smell just a little fishy to you?
The author lives in Santa Barbara.