6/23/2018 to 7/3/2018. Quotes and ideas from The Diversity of Life by E.O Wilson, The New York Times, The Love of God by Oswald Chambers, and Faith, Forward, Future by Chad Veach
E. O. Wilson, an entomologist, is the author of The Diversity of Life, a book discussing the world's steep decline in biodiversity and what our reaction must be. In it, he mentions several philosophical concepts that are at work in the biodiversity challenge. Many of these, like most abstract principles, apply to countless areas. Here, I show a few ideas that I learned from reading his book that I can apply to life and leadership.
1. Common sense is not innate.
Common sense is the result of observed, adopted, and developed logical paths of reasoning. For example, we've all grown up our entire lives on Earth, under Earth's gravity. Thus, when we see an object thrown or dropped, years of practice has allowed us to accurately predict the speed and path the object will take toward the ground. We have a common sense understanding of the workings of gravity, though we likely understand little of the physics behind the scenes. This common sense understanding of physical laws is known as "folk physics." It's generally accurate, but can be skewed. For instance, chimpanzees operate under a very simple folk physics. They have difficulty recognizing the role of gravity in stacking boxes, expecting an imbalanced box to remain upright simply because it is touching the one beneath it. Even infants recognize this problem here. Differences in folk physics don't just exist between species, but arise as humans develop. Very young infants will react to seeing a ball disappear behind your back. To them, it is has simply vanished. But not much later, an older infant learns to track an object it cannot see, something known as object permanence. The infant's understanding of folk physics, it's common sense, is changing.
Common sense is different for many people because of different experiences they have had. For example, words are flexible. Words don't have any inherent meaning themselves. A concept exists, call it <water>, for the physical liquid water. This word "water" is only a name for the concept <water>. Every language has its own word for the concept <water>. But, even this concept can be variable. For example, suppose you had never, whether directly through physical contact or indirectly through recounted experiences, been exposed to warm water. Your concept <water> does not involve warmth. Where someone else's concept <water> can be any temperature. For the most part, drastic differences in concepts like those are not common. The concept you and I have for trees is so similar that we will never notice the differences. But the differences sometimes leak out. Think about the concept <art>. Chances are there exists something I would call art that you wouldn't, and the other way around. Common sense is based on our experiences, and so we each have a slightly different common sense.
As a last point, common sense can be trained. When I started school studying wildlife biology, I had to write a lot. When I would submit scientific writing to those who had writing for years, I often received revisions that just didn't sound right. Their common sense and mine disagreed. However, over the years, I've read countless scientific papers and written significantly more. As I've been exposed to scientific writing more, my common sense about what sounds right, what is the most clear, and what is concise, has changed.
So, common sense is not innate. It changes, it is unique, and it is different (sometimes almost imperceptibly) from those around you. This is necessary to remember when dealing and communicating with others.
2. Don't use a $20 bill for scrap paper.
Paper bills work fine for scrap paper, but if I need to jot down a quick note, I'm probably note going to use money. This is because money has a much greater value than only it's material properties. Wilson writes that "every country has three forms of wealth: material, cultural, and biological." Material wealth is easy to recognize, the other two less so. It's a common situation: a large company only cares about making more money, they don't care for the culture of the town they invade or the biology of the forest they cut down. Perhaps they recognize the culture and biology, but they aren't worth as much. But there's the issue. The worth of culture and biology were being misjudged. If there are three types of wealth, don't judge all three according to one. It follows logically (at least, by my common sense) that a culture would not have as much material wealth as a material would. Yet, cultural and biological wealth are compared using a scale born of material wealth.
Don't compare objects on scales they don't share. When you evaluate something, whether a restaurant, dream, or person, don't use the wrong scale. You don't judge a $20 bill for it's use as a writing surface, and you don't judge a pet for it's use as meat. As a leader, you need to evaluate things according to the correct scale. Otherwise, you risk passing by good opportunities and good people or losing sight of your vision and values.
quotes from this week
The New York Times (June 23, 2018)