Saturday, September 27, 2008

Avoid Uncertainty at Your Own Risk

Of all the columnists in The Washington Post, one of my favorites is Shankar Vedantam who writes "Department of Human Behavior." He's not only a good, clear writer, his research is excellent, and he has no axes to grind. He tells it like it is. In his recent column entitled "The Power of Political Misinformation," he explores how information affects different types of people. When exposed to misinformation, people with more traditionally conservative views tend to believe it more readily than people with more liberal approaches. The fascinating part happens when evidence is later produced that contradicts the misinformation. Liberal thinkers tend to return to a belief only slightly more negative than what they originally held. Those with a conservative viewpoint actually became more negative.

How does this apply to guys going through the midlife transition? Since the mechanism behind this unexpected behavior is directly linked to a person's comfort level in dealing with levels of uncertainty, I think that we can expect these tendencies to be strongest during midlife, when external uncertainties only exacerbate the internal uncertainties that run wild during this period of life. When your emotional world is already being turned on its head, what could you expect other than a frantic grab for more certainty from those who are fundamentally fear-based?

I know that, to some, I may be going out on a limb here; but evidence strongly suggests that people with conservative views have a much more difficult time dealing with uncertainty, and that this difficulty is most often neurologically fear-based: a sort of cultural PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). So far, I haven't heard of any studies on the subject, but I'd be willing to speculate that people who are culturally conservative (rank high on the cultural 'uncertainty avoidance' scale as defined by Geert Hofstede) have a more difficult time with the midlife transition than their counterparts. After all, the midlife transition is that time when, in an emotionally healthy individual, all foundational beliefs and values come under scrutiny and question. It's a time in life when, very often, there seems to be no certainty at all, because the old paradigms have crumbled under the weight of ennui, and a new, more authentic belief and value system has not yet taken its place.

The plight of those who, for whatever reason, are more inclined to believe misinformation after it's been debunked provides only a particular example of a much more wide-spread tendency: people who are very uncomfortable with uncertainty tend to adopt a worldview that's based more on wishful thinking than on fact and actuality. Although it's evidently a survival tactic in a world that's perceived as threatening and dangerous, it's equally evidently a maladaptive response. Living in a world of your own creation - where you set yourself up as the unique meaning-giver - could be characterized as being culturally, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually paranoid schizophrenic. Although that world may appear internally consistent (after all, it's designed to be that way), it consequently relegates all contradictory evidence to the realm of conspiracies: those who don't agree with you are up to no good.

Life as we know it is already rife with maladaptive defense mechanisms. Systematically getting rid of (or at least learning to manage) these once-necessary defenses, which have long since turned on us, makes up the bulk of the maturing process. The midlife transition marks a watershed in a man's life: you have the choice whether to go forward and build for yourself a workable and authentic personal foundation based on discernment of core spiritual principles (like the on-going search for your unique purpose and meaning), or to return to the black-and-white world of artificial certitude (laws, rules, and regulations).

What should you do with uncertainty? Learn to live with it! That's the only way forward through the midlife transition. Going back to old (and imagined) certitudes will leave you repeating the same dead-end behaviors over and over again: divorce after divorce, job after job, career after career, illness after illness, disappointment after disappointment. The fear-based person can't move forward because he sees his plight as something that other people (or the world in general, or even God) are doing to him. The victim mentality keeps him stuck in childish fantasies and unable to transition into a mature and authentic life. Uncertainty avoidance is the bane of midlife: practice it at your own risk!

source: H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
ProActivation® Coaching

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Liberal Attack
Essays from the front line.

From The Man Fighting the Good Fight.

The latest Presidential Campaign has brought to my attention the truth, or lack of, on how far the Liberal factions in our country will go to mislead the American Public. I have found the Liberals are immunized against all dangers that will expose them. If you call them a scoundrel, parasite, liar, etc, it all runs off them like water off a raincoat. But when you identify and call them the “Liberal” for what they are, you will be astonished at how these people recoil, how injured and indigent they are. Yes, how they will suddenly shrink back to a safe zone with the realization of, "I've been found out."
One cannot defend themselves against the “Liberal” identification. Still, they will try to attack with lightning speed from any position of safety and use their abilities to crush any attempt at defense.
Quickly they will try to turn the conservative’s talking points back on him, and the Conservative becomes the liar, the troublemaker, the terrorist. Nothing could be more mistaken than to defend oneself. That is just what the Liberal wants. Liberals can invent a new lie every day for the conservative viewpoint to respond to, and the result is that the Conservative spends so much time defending himself that he has no time to do what the Liberal really fears to address. The accused has become the accuser, and loudly they will shove the accuser into a corner to try to defend themselves. So it always was in the past when a person or a movement fought the Liberal view. That is what would happen to true Conservatives as well were we not fully aware of the Liberal’s nature, and if we lacked the courage to draw the following radical conclusions:
1. One cannot fight the Liberal by positive means. They are negative, and this negative must be erased from the American system, or they will forever corrupt it.
2. One cannot discuss the liberal question with the Liberal. One can hardly prove to a liberal person that they have a duty to render liberal viewpoints harmless.
3. One cannot allow the Liberal the same means one would give an honest opponent, for they have no honorable opponent. They will use generosity and nobility only to trap their opponent.
4. The Liberal has nothing good to say about American questions. They are like a foreigner, an alien, who only enjoys the rights of a guest, rights that they always abuse.
5. The so-called religious morality of the Liberals is no morality at all, rather an encouragement to betrayal. Therefore, they have no claim to protection from the state.
6. The Liberals are not smarter than Conservatives; they only think they are cleverer and craftier. The Liberal infrastructure cannot be defeated economically. Liberals follow an entirely different moral principle than Conservatives do. It can only be broken through political means.
7. A Liberal cannot insult a true Conservative American. Liberal slanders are but badges of honor for a Conservative American opponent of the Liberal.
8. The more a Conservative American person or a conservative movement opposes the Liberal, the more valuable it is. If someone is attacked by Liberals, that is a sure sign of his virtue. A Conservative who is not persecuted by Liberals is useless and themselves dangerous.
9. The true Conservative evaluates the American question from the Liberal standpoint. As a result, the opposite of what the Liberal says must be true.
10. An American at one point or other must either affirm or reject Liberalism. An American, who defends the Liberals, harms himself and all American people. One can only be a Liberal’s lackey or a Liberal opponent. Opposing the Liberals is nothing more that a matter of ones own personal hygiene.
These principles give the true Conservative movement a chance of success. Only such a movement will be taken seriously by the Liberals. Only such a true Conservative movement will be feared by these Liberals.
The fact that Liberals shout and complain about such an effective true Conservative movement is in itself a sign that it is right course. True Conservatives should therefore be delighted that Conservatives are constantly attacked in the Liberal mainstream media. When Liberals shout and complain about unwarranted or unjustified attacks from true and correct Conservative viewpoints, I simply reply, “Attacks?!?! Is it an attack to point out Liberal’s misguided, untruthful lies to try to push through their Liberal agendas? Never! It is nothing more than social hygiene. I say we take these anti-American Liberal radical individuals out of circulation just as a doctor practices his hypocritical oath when he removes a cancerous tumor.