October 4, 2022

Truth and Wishful Thinking: How We Confuse The Two.


Nothing is as it seems. What I know to be real, believe to be true built on my reliance on facts is apparently passe. It's official: Truth is dead. 

The latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary has made it official. Post-truth now has an explanation: "objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." 

Of course, that definition is post-truth, so it may or may not be true. The Oxford Dictionary may be a propaganda tool written by the liberal media, the alt-right, conservative pundits, or some unknown Russian hacker. 

And, therein lies the problem that has me scratching my head. If "truth" or "reality" are no longer what they have always been, how does one separate the wheat from the chaff? How does one construct a rational response to events when rationality is under attack?

Is Mars really populated by little green men (and women)? If enough people on the Internet claim it to be so, then does that makes it so? Did we go to the moon, or just stage a launch in a studio? 

Is there a child sex ring being run from the basement of a pizza restaurant by a former presidential candidate? Is the fact that the restaurant doesn't have a basement relevant? 

Is the government planning on installing microchips in our arms the next time we get a flu shot? Did Covid come from alien 5G signals? Is the earth flat, or round?

These examples are absurd, at least to me, but believed at some point in our history. They gained traction with our fellow citizens. No matter how bizarre or disconnected from how we think the world and its citizens operate, any statement has the potential to be accepted in a post-truth world.

So, how do you determine the difference between what is downright silly or ludicrous, and what are true, meaning facts with reality supporting the premise? At the risk of being seen as part of a plot to deceive, I offer the following suggestions:

1). If something seems too far-fetched to be true, then do your research rather than accept it as presented. Most of us agree that if something is too good to be true, like a Hawaiian vacation for $99, then it probably is a scam. Use that same discernment with news or "facts" that raise questions. Something important can be found in multiple sources, not just one that is re-tweeted or shared over and over.

2) Realize that truth or facts are not dependent on what you believe. They are independent of emotions and beliefs. An inconvenient truth is still true. 

3) If someone claims to have a simple answer to a complex or difficult question that has bedeviled humans for a long time, question that solution. Complex problems do not have simple answers, especially those that can be summed up in a 280-character tweet or 30 second TV commercial.

4) Does the story attack a large non-specific foe, like Big Government, Republicans, all liberals, or The Media? Such broad-brush revelations are very rarely based on fact, but much more likely on emotion or a particular agenda.

5) Accept that uncomfortable "truths" may require you to change your worldview or opinions about something. To ignore or deny simply because you may have to change is done at your own peril.

6) "Truth" does not change over time: the world was flat for thousands of years until the truth of its roundness became obvious. The world was always round; people just didn't have the tools or mindset to accept it. What changes is our awareness and understanding of what is true, not the truths behind it.

With all that being said, I would add a suggestion: question everything. Just like the round world example, question what you believe at every turn. The "truth" as you know it may be wrong, or not fully understood. Be ready to adjust to new, credible, information.

It is not easy, it goes against human nature. But that is the only way we evolve as a species: to separate fiction from the truth, rejecting the former while embracing the latter.

Now that we are knee-deep in the alternate reality known as the American political season, this may be the perfect time to see if you can tell the difference between what is real and what is just convenient or comforting to believe. Your detective skills will be needed constantly for the next few weeks.

If you are really looking to become confused and irritated at the human tendency to believe pure silliness, read Off The Edge, a book about the Flat Earth belief system and its continued presence in the (round) world. I found this an eye-opening look into why we believe all sorts of bizarre conspiracy theories that treat truth and facts as irrelevant.

Be safe out there, people. Not everything is as it seems.

September 30, 2022

How Would I Live Differently... If?

You see them on the side of milk containers, or on the tops of canned goods. Over-the-counter medicines and treatments have them, too. The "best if used by" date is when the manufacturer has determined that a product is past the time when you should consume or use it. 

The cynic in me says those dates are designed to get us to replace a perfectly good product with a new one. I know when we cleaned out my dad's apartment after his passing, we found things in his medicine cabinet that were years too old but still worked for him, and had nothing to do with his cause of death.. So, I fudge a bit. A can of mixed fruit probably won't kill me if the date was five months ago. But, after a nasty experience with turned milk, that date I follow. 

So, here is a random thought: what if humans had a "best if used by" date stamped on our can (butt), or somewhere on our body? How would that affect how we spend our days?

I like this question because there is no correct answer. In fact, the question is answerable only in the abstract. To decide what I would have done differently for the past 73 years or what I will do in the time remaining if I learned when I was going to expire, is simply an interesting mental exercise, isn't it?

Another version of this would be, "what would you do if you knew you had one year to live?" My answer (and more importantly, yours) gets to the heart of what we have decided is important to us. It helps us clarify what we have learned that makes our life worth living. With an expiration date, we have no more fantasy about the lie we tell ourselves that "there's always tomorrow" or "I have all the time in the world to do that."

If I had an expiration date or just discovered my "best if used by " stamp what would I do differently? A few thoughts may get you to ask yourself the same questions and entertain us with your answers. Of course, how long in the future I have until I expire affects my answers. So, just for sake of argument, let's assume it is 5 years in the future:

* My to-do list each day would probably look different.

* I would see some of the sights I  promised to see "someday."

* I would cut back on computer time.

* How I spend my retirement money would change.

* My spiritual life would likely deepen and strengthen.

* I would leave a book of my life lessons for my children and grandkids.

Because this is just a fantasy (I hope!) it is hard to say what else might be on this list. But, the last item jumped out at me as probably the most important. 

Regular readers know my wife is a photographer. We have hundreds of analog snapshots and a few hundred thousand digital photos filling a linen closet and several computer hard drives. So, forgetting what I looked like and the times we all spent together wouldn't be a worry for those left behind.

Of more lasting value may be what I can pass on to my kids and their kids. Like you, I have had my troubles. I have been fired, seen the dark side of some financial reversals, watched a business I built fail, had family members die, and struggled to be the kind of husband I promised to be 46 years ago.

Even so, I take the Satisfying Retirement title of this blog very seriously. If my life hadn't been one of learning and growing, solving problems, and moving forward my retirement wouldn't look like it has. If my health and finances hadn't held up so far, there is little doubt I would be different.

There should be some life lessons that someone else in my family can benefit from. I feel obligated to tell them what I know to spare them as many stumbles as possible. I would spend some of my remaining time writing down what I have learned from this journey that has been my life. Hopefully, I would honestly detail my failures and missteps as much as my successes.  In that way, the things I have learned would not stop when I reached my due date.

I should quickly add I do not want to know my expiration date. If a fortune teller wants to read my palms to check on my "Life Line,"  I will politely decline. If some fancy DNA test says my odds are 72% I will live until I am 84, that's great, but it isn't gospel.

Only, if medical tests reveal something that is likely to give me a timeline, would I want to know. Otherwise, the joy of living is too precious to worry about when it will end. No "best if used date" on my body? Good.

What about you? Would you want to know? Even as an interesting experiment, what would be on your list to accomplish if you could see into the future?

September 26, 2022

What Do You Do For Fun?

It is time for a break from the serious side of retirement. For now, don't think about financial problems, relationship woes, the future of democracy,  health issues, or why eggs cost as much as meat, and since when are all doctors about 20 years old?

When was the last time you really had fun? Can you recall a moment when you just smiled, laughed, and thoroughly enjoyed yourself? What happened to make you become a child again, full of joy or abandon?

Of course, we can't live in that moment all that often. That's not how life works. Plus, if almost everything was fun, then how special would it be? Doesn't something really light you up because it is not ordinary, not part of the day-to-day that makes up most days?

So, just for a little while today, I'd like you to remember something that was just plain fun...something that even now you remember fully and fondly. Then, I am going to ask you to share what you recall. Maybe your time of fun will inspire one of us to decide to follow your lead. Maybe your memories will give us the kick we need to add some fun to our day.

Here are thought starters, some possibilities of the last time you just really let loose and had fun. I imagine you will add your own way to kick loose:

Vacations and travel...I am hard-pressed to think someone doesn't go on a vacation or travel to a new or favorite spot, if not to have fun and make new memories.

Spending time in nature...maybe just a quiet hour enjoying the sights and sounds. Maybe sketching that monarch butterfly that is on the bush in from of you

Painting, writing, singing, dancing...any creative endeavor that makes you smile..woodworking, quilting, and photography come to mind.

Game nights...with family, spouse, partner, roommates, good friends. It could be a card game, board game, or something on the computer.

Playing VR games, watching favorite movies...an enjoyable way to pass a few hours is with a favorite flick, one that never seems to get old. If you are adventurous, maybe putting on a VR headset and exploring the jungles of Africa or diving into a VR coral reef is more your speed.

Walking, jogging, running a marathon...the health benefits and endorphins make you happy and feel productive.

Eating or cooking your favorite food...Why else go out to a meal? Whatever your favorite dish or cuisine, eating well is its own brand of fun.

Playing or watching a favorite sport...what other explanation could there be for someone to spend lots of money to watch grown men tackle each other, or someone bat a ball back and forth. Hitting the game-winning home run? Even better.

This should get you started. How do you have fun?