BENEFITTING FROM EVERYTHING

I don’t want to be right; I want to win. I will explain. In Jim Paul’s book, What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars, he talks about this commodity trader who was very successful with trades in green lumber. The trader, who was successful, thought that green lumber was lumber painted green, instead of freshly cut lumber. Then there is this other guy, I think it was the writer, who knows what green lumber really is, but he makes no money. Nassim Taleb relates this story in one of his books in the Incerto series. I have forgotten which one exactly. Imagine the successful and failed green lumber traders arguing. The successful trader will look like an idiot. But is he? Nassim Taleb says- you don’t want to win arguments, you want to win. I like this kind of attitude that focuses on what matters in every situation. As a writer I don’t care as much about writing beautifully as spreading my ideas. A business should care less about winning industry awards. It should care about generating profits. I think this kind of perspective summarizes what I want to talk about today. I want to benefit from everything.

So like the successful green lumber trader, I don’t care as much about facts as about benefiting. Besides, facts can be a strange thing. Imagine being in a jungle. You see tree shadows and you run thinking you’ve seen a predator. However, you are wrong 99% of the time. This means that you are right only, just only, 1% of the time. Someone might look at this situation and think that it is rational to see the shadow for what it is. A shadow. But higher order thinking will reveal that it is rational to run. Besides, if you are wrong that 1% of the time, you become food for some hungry lion. You don’t want to be food. This is especially true if you will be in the dangerous environment for a long time. Therefore, being scared when you are walking the street at night and you see someone following you might not be irrational. Your fear might make you walk faster, or run. The next day you will be able to eat breakfast. If you start overthinking and say that the likelihood of being mugged is low, the question is- what if it happens? You become vulnerable. You could also turn into a murder statistic. It may be rational to overestimate risks that can destroy you. It is true that we can be tricked by our nature, and overestimating risks may not be the best thing to do in every situation. But that is not my point. I brought these things up so we can look at issues differently. Like nature, which formed us, we should try to benefit from every situation no matter how illogical it might seem on the surface. Be open to looking for how you can gain. Talking about benefiting, I am not talking about foolish selfishness like winning at the expense of others. This kind of benefiting is non zero-sum. Let me give an example. One time I was in a bus, it got to the time when the receiver was taking our fares. I couldn’t find my wallet. I checked my pockets several times but I couldn’t find it. A man beside me told me to look in my back pack. I was cocksure it wasn’t in the bag. But I checked anyway. Voila! I found it there. Who profited from looking where he wouldn’t have? I did. Did the man who gave me the advice lose anything? I don’t think so. I have been trying to benefit especially in discussions with others. If someone says something I disagree with I try to find out if perhaps there isn’t some sense in it before I dismiss it. I am not always successful at this. I am human.

I think the tendency to dismiss people’s perspective without thinking about them is dangerous. It’s also a sign of immaturity. I am not of the view that one should tolerate every idea. I mean, you shouldn’t tolerate intolerance. My point is that most often, even when you have a substantive disagreement with someone, there is something you can learn from their position. It could just mean understanding how come they believe what they believe, and that is important in any discourse. However, as humans, we have this tendency to want to win in the very short term. If you are in a discussion with someone, you don’t want to win the argument; rather, you want to learn something that will improve your life. You want to win in life. Besides, winning an argument doesn’t necessarily make you correct or your position rational.

I will go a little into this subject by discussing the fight between militant atheists and religionists. Before I go into it, let me declare my position- I am a Christian. I think it is irresponsible to just dismiss atheists because I am a Christian. I don’t really care if someone is an atheist or not. I don’t mind being friends with anyone, whether he or she is Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh or atheist. I don’t care. What’s important is how the person treats people. In fact, I am better off studying all these beliefs. For example, I recognize the benefits of meditation, which is a Buddhist thing. To be open to new ways of thinking is good selfishness. It means I can benefit from them. I want to benefit from everything without harming anyone. I have read some atheistic literature; at least, I have read Dawkins’ God Delusion and Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, who is a deist. I think it’s good to know what they think. In fact, I agree with them on a lot of things. They let me know that what I believed in was not as flawless as I thought. You can’t know if you really believe in a something until you have it’s counter fact. It’s in choosing it despite its limitations that one makes a leap of faith. Because one sees the potential to do good through the belief system, not because one is blindly following.

If I was an atheist I wouldn’t mind adopting religious practices that could be of benefit to me. Most often, religionists and militant atheists are talking over each others’ heads; one can see that they are poised to fight from the beginning. They are not trying to learn from each other. They want to win arguments, as if life is a one-hit-game. One thinks the other is insufferably stupid. The other thinks the other is evil. What does anyone learn in such an atmosphere? In fact, never discuss issues with people who don’t want to listen. It’s a waste of time. You could use that time to get some good sleep.

I want to write about the evolutionary necessity of religion, and the necessity of disbelief in avoiding things that are clearly harmful. But that would be on another day. I would end this piece by emphasizing the importance of trying to benefit from every situation. I would leave you with the following axioms.

  1. Learn from everyone no matter who they are.
  2. Always assume that there is something you don’t know.
  3. It usually doesn’t hurt to listen to opinions that differ from yours, because you can choose to disregard them.
  4. Don’t waste your time on fruitless discussions.
  5. To listen is to love yourself; having listened means you love others.

Thank you for reading.

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