On finding an authentic mirror to look at ourselves

Some days we are capable of convincing ourselves of the wisdom of very stupid ideas.

I was reading an insightful book the other day called The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver. Silver was making a point about statistical predictions when he posed this example: A man who never usually drinks got plastered. He was trying to decide if he should drive home or call a taxi. Silver said the man constructed this fallacious argument. You have made 20,000 trips. You have had two minor fender benders and you have gotten to your destination safely 19,998 times. The man convinced himself those were great odds and it was totally unnecessary to call a cab. Obviously the problem is the man had never driven this drunk so his sample size for drunken trips is zero. He had no way to measure his risk based on past experience.

Silver was demonstrating a statistical problem called “an out-of-sample problem.”

However, Silver was also accurately describing a problem with the human condition. We lie to ourselves. We shamelessly and cleverly try to convince ourselves of nonsensical propositions because that thought process takes us somewhere we want to go.

Being candid with ourselves and appreciating who we are at any given time is perhaps the most difficult thing we do. I am a big believer in Socrates’ admonition that “An unexamined life is not worth living.” But looking at ourselves with an authentic and honest eye is incredibly difficult.

We all have met people whose self-image strikes us as being totally inconsistent with the actual image the person projects. I have a funny, but insightful friend who frequently quips in such a situation, “Boy, I wish I had his mirror.”

A lot of us build a false mirror for ourselves because a genuine mirror will disturb our make-believe world.

And, yet most of us also know people who understand their own authentic selves with all its warts and imperfections and can own it. Those folks are courageous heroes who deserve our admiration.

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