Do you think, act and behave in ways that truly reflect YOU – who you are and what you genuinely believe? Or are your responses and actions based on something learned or acquired? Is it possible that your thoughts, actions, and behaviors might instead be “received wisdom” – or general opinions of ‘experts’ rather than your own?
For me, one great example of “received wisdom” is reflected in the large supply of items that fill my storage closets (almost to overflowing). I often stare at them…and wonder how so many bottles of laundry detergent, sponges, cans of beans, and so on landed on those shelves. The fact that I track and retrieve coupons weekly so I can purchase more of these items does not register as a part of the problem. Some might question this behavior or consider it compulsive or obsessive. Not me! Reasonable, rational explanations (from my limited viewpoint, anyway) consistently help ground and justify my decision to continue to pursue the purchase of items I already have at least a 6 month supply of. Until recently, that is.
About a month ago, this behavior began haunting me – even though I refused to dismiss my rationale . I began to explore possibilities for what might be causing this apparent “obsession.” As a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell – his style, approach, and way of thinking – I sought his viewpoint as a means to help me understand my own. I searched and found several interviews that might bring a deeper understanding to my dilemma (from his perspective, anyway).
- This July during an interview by Anderson Cooper, David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker magazine, was asked to share thoughts about the style, approach, and behavior of Malcolm Gladwell – one of the magazine’s staff writers. Below is the question and the response Cooper received:
Anderson Cooper: What do you think he’s interested in achieving? Is it that he’s got an opinion and he wants everybody else to agree with it?
David Remnick: Absolutely just the opposite. I think what he’s interested in is testing and pressing against received wisdom, most of the time what we think of our ideas about the world, it’s received wisdom. We’ve read them. We’ve assumed it’s correct. We don’t have time to test everything.
- In another interview, Gladwell shares that he grew up in rural Ontario, Canada as the son of a Jamaican born mother (a family therapist) and an English born father (a math professor). He continued to explain that the nature of these two divergent backgrounds created a household environment that continually explored or sought out “uncommon commonalities.” This exposure fostered a skill that allowed him to view the world and consider occurrences, viewpoints, etc. from a much broader variety of perspectives.
“I’m very grateful for that kind of upbringing, because I feel like it gives me a kind of base from which to explore the world, you know.”
As I absorb and process these comments, an “aha” moment embraces me. I wondered if what Malcolm shared might explain what appears to be my “obsessive” nature – one that continually fills and re-fills my shelves…with little defensible reason or explanation. I was raised in New Jersey by parents (and grandparents) who lived through the Depression and several Wars. Those time periods demanded that folks scrimp, save, gather – even plan – so as not to be unprepared or left without. This way of living was ingrained in them. It was natural to raise their children with this world view/perspective – one based on limited resources. Although I had not personally lived through those times nor experienced the challenges of the times, I acquired (received) a “wisdom” – an imbedded way of thinking – that governs my thoughts, behaviors, and actions. In order to find my way to a more productive way of understanding, I had to learn how to break that pattern and form or blaze a new way.
In all walks or aspects of our lives – business or personal – we are continually guided or governed (maybe even manipulated) by “received wisdom” whether it stems from our parents, books we’ve read, programs we’ve watched, opinions we’ve heard. Pausing to consider, reflect and maybe even challenge our thoughts, behaviors, and actions might allow us to view an continually expanding world – even craft a new world or lifestyle view. We owe it to ourselves to pause and ask ourselves some important questions:
- Are our thoughts and behaviors truly our own?
- Or, have we been “conditioned” to think or act in a certain way?
- Have we acquired thoughts and ways of behaving?
In a Guardian interview, Gladwell prompts us…even encourages us – to challenge the “received wisdom” we each tend to carry with us…
…it is important to be provocative “when the majority has taken a position that’s ill thought-through” – that is, being interestingly wrong can be a useful way of clarifying what we really believe.
Crafted, researched and written by: |LIZ CARLOCK
The Write Resources, LLC™
© 2014 EM Carlock