How I Participated in A Lie
(Thanks to Dave Pickett for the inspiration for this article.)
I want to share a problem with you. 3=18, 4=32, 10=? Can you complete it and replace the “?” with a number?
Before I give the answer, I want to share another problem. Research has shown that children with one gaming device in their homes are three times more likely to exhibit violence at some point during school, and when you double that number, the incidence of violence jumps to seven. What do you think we should do about violence in school?
Now, many of you probably found that the answer to the numeric question is 200. You saw the subtle pattern, which was that 3 transformed into 18 (3 times (3+3)), 4 transformed into 32 (4 times 4+4), and 10 must therefore transform into 10 times (10+10). Unfortunately for many of you who worked so hard, you were incorrect, because the answer is 10..This pattern that many of you invested so much time to unearth is interesting and logical. So is the idea that children with one gaming device in their homes are three times more likely to exhibit violence at some point during school. Both ideas stir our minds and direct them to extend the pattern into something that makes sense, the same way we want to draw lines to connect three dots into a triangle.
The problem is that the number game doesn’t say 3 transforms to 18. It says 3 equals 18, which isn’t true. The only answer for the end is that 10 equals 10, which is true, and doesn’t rely on the falsehood of the first statement.
The fact I stated about video games is not true. I know it’s not true, because I made it up. However, despite the fact that no such research exists, many of us are very ready to express our opinion about what we should do regarding violence in school based on that “information.”
This pattern-completion aspect of our minds, which is absolutely necessary for us to learn, can also cause serious problems if we are not attentive to detail. We can easily be manipulated. Worse, we can manipulate ourselves.
The real reason I, a piano teacher, want you to think about this is that perhaps you, like I, have made lots of decisions in your life based on who you believe yourself to be, without considering how flexible self-identity actually is. Many people tell me, “I took piano lessons for a while, but I didn’t have a talent for it, and that’s why I can’t play today.” Who told them they didn’t have a talent for it, and what does that question actually mean?
I absorbed many inaccurate observations about myself from people who I knew. “You can’t throw.” “You’re absent minded.”
I made up others on my own to explain away things I was insecure about . “I’m not athletic.” “My vision is poor.” I either spent my life accepting, or trying to disprove these things. Both situations were a misguided waste of my energy.
Being nearsighted did not mean my vision was poor, only that I needed glasses to see far away. However, I did in fact neglect the use of my eyes because I believed the larger statement. This cost me plenty in being able to draw, as well as neglecting an ability to remember faces of people I met, which still causes me embarrassment.
So I ask you now, what inaccuracy is buried in you like a stone with roots twined around it from some other plant? Did you know that you can reach in there and pull the stone out, because the roots themselves come from somewhere else? Can you recognize the kind of courage it takes to do that, and the reasons you might prefer to believe something that isn’t actually true?