Life on earth, by our best estimates, is about 4.5 billion years old. If you are lucky enough to live to a “ripe old age” you might live 100 years or slightly more. When you “die” the influence that you had on others will continue to ripple and ripple and ripple. Let’s examine one of the ways in which such ripples may vary qualitatively based on the “rules” that you use to learn about and communicate about your own experience.
Roughly speaking, we can consider two quite different types of rules that people might use when their own experience appears to contradict the experience of others or their intuitions about what action to take. These rules might be called “The Power Rule” and “The Truth Rule.”
The Power Rule: I will do my damnedest in every interaction to convince the other person that I am right! I will never give in! How do I know I’m right? Because I’m better than everyone else! If I can’t convince them, I’ll try to make them do what I want anyway.
The Truth Rule: I will do my damnedest in every interaction to work with the other person to find the truth. That truth might be what I already thought, what they thought, or something completely different. How do I know I’m right? I don’t, but I know I’m getting closer as I go on.
It should be obvious that a person who follows Rule One will largely be in for a lifetime of trouble. First, they will irritate a huge number of people who disagree with them — not because they disagree — but because they act robotically, when the disagree. They respond to every argument with a pre-programmed counter-argument. If you ever watched “All in the Family” Archie Bunker was the perfect prototype of someone who would not be swayed by science or facts.
Second, a person who always uses “The Power Rule” will make many unnecessary mistakes in life simply because they refused to learn something from others if it was in conflict with what they already believed. As a result, they might be “stuck” with a variety of bad habits that they learned early in life but which they would always “defend” so no change was required — even change for their benefit.
Third, The Power Rule approach has a negative impact, not only on themselves and their families but on everyone they come in contact with. When they interact, they will only either agree or disagree, not discover. By contrast, using The Truth Rule among people with different beliefs and opinions means you can actually discover something new.
Analogously, most species of complex animals and plants reproduce sexually. There is a reason evolution favors that approach. It allows for faster adaptation to change.
Of course, all of us are actually mixtures of Rule One and Rule Two.
I would be very careful with having very many examples of The Power Rule in your repertoire.
In addition to the issues raised above, it stands to reason that you will have less real influence on others beyond your own lifetime. Our world today is much richer and more comfortable because of the work of people like Mozart, Beethoven, Frank Lloyd Wright, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Voltaire, Tesla, Edison, Einstein, Galileo. Can we say the same about Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin? The latter three, along with many other dictators and war-mongers have killed millions. But let’s not forget that those millions are human beings who are, in a very real sense, part of their family. Destroying other people, as well as destroying other species is anti-life. Discovering, learning, solving, communicating honestly — these are life-affirming activities.
It’s pretty obvious that different political systems are aligned with these different approaches. Hereditary Kings with absolute power, dictators, Czars — they institutionalize and depend on The Power Rule. Democracy and Republics are premised on The Truth Rule. It’s not surprising that science and the arts tend to flourish much more in Democracies.
Which rule do you find works better for you?