Thursday, June 14, 2012

big things have small beginnings,


A while back I heard my brother relate that he came across something funny. Now I wouldn't expect any of you to know that I have a brother or anything about him but he happens to be interested in World War I as a subject for reading. Dropping by a discussion forum he noticed an amusing discussion about the role different nations played in the conflict. Relatively easy point for discussion, right? Everyone agrees the main parties were England, Germany, France, Italy, Russia and the United States to cover the biggest players.  Well ...

Let's just say that someone had a question about what role lesser know nations had in the war.  Anyone who has read their history knows that the major players who made the war famous were not necessarily the nations that started it. Many people today may not be aware that the nations that started the First World War were not actually Germany or England. Bosnia and Serbia don't tend to come up in many discussions.

My brother mentioned a memorable question. A question that came up was, "What role did Bosnia and Serbia play in the First World War?" Related by my brother was this cheeky rejoinder, "You mean other than starting it? Nothing." Kinda funny, isn't it?

Definitely funny that the two nations that sparked the first global military conflict did not themselves end up playing any significant role in the war once it exploded. Really, you'd think that this kind of thing wouldn't happen so much. I know, that's sarcasm of a dry sort but humor me. Sometimes a writer wishes to be indulgent and play with language a bit, to riff on seemingly unrelated actions that synergistically add up to more than first appears. Could it be the two small nations had any idea that their little feud could spark a global bloodbath?  Obviously we must realize that no one is able to fully guess at those things. Let's remember that in many cases a short-term decision that seems wonderful has a disastrous end.  Let's remember that when the short term rewards glow in the present that sometimes miserable disasters and darkness may shortly follow.

Just because two points can eventually be connected doesn't mean the connections are always easy to make.  Anyone can connect dots that are obviously, closely associated. Many people are content to just connect the dots most easily seen as connectable.  Even though this may not always prove to be the most helpful way of approaching things people rely on mental shortcuts that we often don't realize exist.  "Stupid is as stupid does" is not quite the right way to put it because we are all capable of this kind of thing..

Nobody wants to admit that we can take mental shortcuts.  Only morons take mental shortcuts in which they assume everything from a part, right?  Really, though, we are all guilty of the same kinds of failings other people are, aren't we?  I am not any more likely to think clearly on everything even when I know what the weaknesses and shortcuts of my own brain are.  As embarrassing as this is for me to admit it must be admitted, because admitting this weakness is a step toward change.  Generally people don't want to boast in weaknesses, whether physically weaknesses, emotional weaknesses or cognitive weaknesses.  All of us would like to be known and praised for strengths and what may demonstrate a cognitive bias that hinders our judgment we may be tempted to spin as "going for the bottom line" or, in more pious-talking circles, "discernment".

Kinda strange that we keep fooling ourselves and each other about this.  As much as I find this troubling I have to admit it's a temptation I face, too. I don't have to be comfortable with this to realize it's something I must remember.  To quote an old author "The heart is deceitful above all things, who can understand it?" Like it or not people haven't changed that much since those words were written. You can't get around that. Nope, but perhaps realizing that the human condition is a puzzle we can never fully solve can give us a modicum of humility about not only our weakness but the weakness of others.

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