Sometimes our first thought is wrong.
Sometimes all the knowledge and all the experience gained in years of learning can lead us down the wrong path.
We must learn to quiet the voices yelling in our ear and examine challenges with eyes of logic instead of waves of emotions.
All medical students know this famous quote:
“When you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras”
— Thomas Woodward
Hence the picture of the horse and not one of a zebra. Medical students learn that the most common explanation for a medical illness is always the most likely, not the most exotic. In medical school, we learn about many of those exotic and rarely seen diseases, and discovering them in our everyday patients is exciting to consider. We want our identity in finding an exotic cause for everyday symptoms.
But it’s rarely the actual problem with which our patient presents.
And while this bit of wisdom is perfect for the medical field, this standard of observation applies to our everyday world as much as any medical setting.
We exist in a time when everyone is an expert, forming opinions from tidbits of information scanned on a Facebook post or a Wiki page.
Connected to the internet, they thrive to publish such knowledge across the globe unchecked and unfettered.
We toss conspiracy theories around in a mix of scientific facts, politically driven talking points, and lunatic musings of the mentally insufficient. Logic gets scattered to the wayside and we laugh at reaching conclusions using rational thinking with regularity.
So what becomes of a world wrestling with a loss of reality?
If we fall into the trap of reading, copying, pasting, passing on, and repeating this mindless exercise; it dooms us to stay misinformed and suffer the consequences of poor choices and groupthink decisions that ruin lives.
Sure, living in a flock of sheeple is easier. Everyone looks the same, acts the same, believes the same, and wanders through life in ignorant bliss.
Until the wolf arrives hidden as “one of us” and destroys the flock from within. There is an inherent danger of everyone agreeing. Suddenly, not everyone is needed.
When I managed a very large division of a national corporation, I needed people around me I could trust to make informed decisions. I also needed individuals willing to tell me when they thought my plans were wrong, and I told them that when I hired them.
The discussion went something like this; “I always agree with myself, but I’m not always right. If you always agree with me too, then you offer me nothing I don’t already have when trying to solve challenges we face.”
Of course, the next part is just as important. I said that just because they disagreed and offered alternatives, it was not with the expectation I would always follow their suggestions. That’s the part of being responsible and in charge; it means that I take in counsel, but those providing it must understand that’s all it is, counsel. The ultimate decision was mine to make because I was being held responsible for the outcome.
Most of my managers loved this set up, and I never ran into one that couldn’t work within those guidelines. It allowed me to surround myself with an accomplished and successful group of leaders. Our entire team was praised when things went well; and I rightfully took the blame when things didn’t. That’s how true leadership and teamwork should function.
Life outside the corporate world works the same way.
The key is learning to provide input, but not taking everything so personally if no one welcomes your thoughts with enthusiasm, you still take part in life as an active member.
Too many of us feel that we can solve all the world’s problems, and with our bits of information, we should be the person to turn to. We come up with all kinds of exotic theories or irrational behaviors and can’t understand when everyone else isn’t following our lead.
Sometimes it’s because we’re trying to sell Zebras in the land of Horses. The hoofbeats we keep talking about are from common causes and require logical and rational approaches to deal with.
Coronavirus is an exotic creature, and we may all panic at the sight of such a zebra in our lives. We don’t know enough about this virus to know what we don’t know yet.
But it’s a virus.
We know a lot of general information about viruses. We know how they behave, and we know how they live and die. So the real experts are looking at this zebra with the eyes trained to understand horses but also trained to work with exotic situations.
It’s an analogy that fits.
You and I are not experts. Neither is cousin Bob or your neighbor Karen down the street. Yes, every one of us has an opinion. Yes, every one of us wants others listening when we speak. That’s OK.
But don’t get caught up in the emotion of thinking you or I actually have the answers our community needs. Our place is to do those things we absolutely know will help from our level.
Wash our hands. Practice social distancing. Cover our face when we cough or sneeze. Wash our hands again.
Life did not have to come to a stop by any means, but because too many people want to speak and not listen, we treat the entire population at the same level as the lowest common denominator until we can realize this is an “us” problem and not a “me” problem.
We offer information when we have something worthwhile to say; but those responsible decide and we don’t take it personally. We wash our hands and live to fight another day.
Politics aside, there are armchair quarterbacks with perfect hindsight just waiting for the chance to say, “I told you so.” but you and I are different.
We know this is a team exercise and the entire team wins or the entire team losses if we don’t learn to play the game correctly.
Stop thinking Zebras. Start thinking horses and let logic and rational thoughts and actions push aside those people weakened by only using emotion to decide questions that required actual knowledge.