Problem Management — principles

Rather than being caged, young circus elephants have one leg chained to a stake, and soon learn that no amount of pulling will break the chain or pull the stake from the ground. As adults, those same elephants are restrained the same way, still knowing that they cannot free themselves. This is of course no longer true, but elephants don't question their beliefs.

When asked what is the product of 3 and 5, without your having to actually calculate it or count on your fingers, the answer 15 should instantly spring to mind. This is because the response to what is 3 times 5 was imprinted in your mind as a child. You no longer question it, you simply know that it's true.

Using similar methods, many religious cults effectively brainwash their followers into blindly believing certain facts and unthinkingly accepting illogical reasoning. Others accomplish this result by slower more subtle means, but the effect is the same.

For example the Roman and Anglican churches have a process known as catechism in which standard questions about doctrine and other aspects of the Church are responded to with standard questions. Children undergo this training for years so that as adults they will be able, without conscious thinking, to instantly respond with the correct answer to any question about their religion, just as they can instantly respond 15 to what is 3 times 5.

A similar process, though more physical than intellectual, takes place during military training. Soldiers must be able to respond instantly to orders without taking time to think about them.

In most cases, these conditioning exercises are good, both for the individual and for society. But there are many cases in life where similar training takes place without one's ever realizing it.

Consider how often you know the answer to something without having to think about it. Consider how often your conclusions are obvious. Take the time to think about why you were able to come up with an answer so quickly, and then think about where that answer actually came from. Your mind will likely resist such analysis.

These conditioned responses were programmed into your mind years ago, and while most of them really will be well reasoned logical conclusions based on verified facts, some won't be; they will have been acquired long ago and blindly accepted as obvious truth ever since. Some might have always been wrong, and some might have become untrue with time, but the fact is, you have this misinformation embedded in your mind and it affects your decisions and how you live your life.

As a further example of misinformation, and since this page is labeled Religion, consider these biblical quotations that almost everyone is familiar with:

Actually, the first is not biblical at all, but from Benjamin Franklin. The other two are blatant misquotations:

The last example is especially bad, changing the subject from greed to the money itself, the indefinite a root to the definite the root, and the hyperbolic figure of speech all kinds of to the specific all.

Consider how many people instantly condemn styrofoam cups. Paper cups are actually more environmentally damaging, not to mention that they don't work as well for hot drinks. Styrofoam got a bad reputation a few decades back because it was originally produced using CFC gasses. The industry changed to a different method, but the public perception remained that styrofoam itself was a bad thing, and as a result many fast-food chains switched to the inferior paper products. Similarly most egg containers are now paper instead of styrofoam (a great loss to the child-care system). Few people think to question their well-known facts, and businesses must cater to client perceptions, whether true or not.

How many people question that:

How much of your knowledge is like the elephant's knowledge that it can't pull a small stake from the ground?