We all have instinctual thoughts, but are the the right ones? When I heard about this book from a weekly email I receive from the Marshall Memo, I was excited to find out. In the book called Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think, author Hans Rosling “describes ten ways we tend to misinterpret the world around us.” So, what can we do about this? Rosling offers some thought-provoking advice on avoiding the following common human instincts. Take a look at these instincts, and my take on them (with some key quotes of his mixed in), and his video at the end of this post.
- The gap instinct – this is the instinct where we, as humans, want to divide things, any number of things, into distinct groups. Race, for example, is a social construct created by societies (aka: humans) to divide people into groups. We know the rest of the story here, and the dangerous outcomes that this type of gap instinct can create.
- The negativity instinct – This instinct needs little explanation. There is always a tendency to want to slip into this downward spiral, a systems thinking term, where we head down the rabbit whole of negativity. There is a reason our staff at BCS would share that my mantra is “promote the positive” and “presume positive intent” versus the alternative to these habits of mind. Why else is “Positive Attitude” on top of the life skills listed on our BCS Moral Compass?
- The straight line instinct – patterns among humans are often observed, though be careful not to assume the pattern will continue in perpetuity. Trends are not always forever!
- The fear instinct – In thinking of this instinct, “If it bleeds, it leads” comes to mind as it relates to news stories. Rosling warns, that “Paying too much attention to what is frightening rather than what is dangerous – that is, paying too much attention to fear – creates a tragic drainage of energy in the wrong direction.” As with the negativity instinct, let’s look for the positive uplifting news stories that, I feel, can put us on the path to productivity and solid decision-making versus the poor decision making we may make when we are living in fear. That said, Rosling reminds us not to neglect the “mega dangers”. I can’t help but think of critical education dangers like the achievement gap and the social-emotional well-being of many students today.
- The size instinct – In keeping with the concept of “If it bleeds, it leads,” as it related to the size instinct, Rosling contends that “The media is this instinct’s friend. It is pretty much a journalist’s professional duty to make any given event, fact, or number sound more important than it is. What I take from this instinct, we have to be sure to keep others’ and our own exaggerations in check.
- The generalization instinct – This instinct is similar to the “us vs. them” gap instinct, though, to go further, it seems to me, that the generalization instinct can result in stereotyping, which, without question, can be dangerous and demonstrate ignorance. While generalizing can help us look for patterns and help us in our thought processes, it the danger of this instinct of which we need to be mindful.
- The destiny instinct – this is the notion that each of our futures will be the result of our innate characteristics. This instinct reminds me of the fixed mindset rather than the growth mindset. While our innate characteristics are important to who each of us is, it is that, accompanied with our effort and technique, that will determine our destiny. This reminds me of the quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” So, we may want to be careful of them, yes?
- The single perspective instinct – this instincts confines us to the notion that there is only one way or only one right answer. A dangerous, close-minded instinct indeed. This instinct flies in the face of innovative learning, completely limiting creativity and the process of Design Thinking. Think Stephen Covey’s abundance mentality, not single perspective!
- The blame instinct – For me, this is the finger-pointing instinct, which will rarely point at yourself. We have to be sure not to get personal and remember, according to Gosling, “that blaming an individual often steals the focus from other possible explanations and blocks our ability to prevent similar problems in the future.” In other words, like so many of the other instincts noted here, this instinct will block creative thought, innovation, and solution-finding.
- The urgency instinct – As a principal for nearly 20 years, there has rarely been a critical decision that I have had to make “right now” instead of allowing myself to pause, reflect, and seek input through collaboration before rendering a decision. In fact, Rosling would agree with this in his statement, “It’s almost never that urgent, and it’s almost never an either/or.” I have learned that, outside of a true crisis, decision-making can be prodding, reflective, and thoughtful taking our time to make the right one.
As I reflect on these ten human instincts, I am reminded of the importance of open-mindedness, humility, collaboration, creativity and diversity. With that and related to Rosling’s ten human instincts, take some time to watch the below video that asks the question: “How much do you know about the world? Hans Rosling, with his famous charts of global population, health and income data (and an extra-extra-long pointer), demonstrates [in this TEDTalk video] that you have a high statistical chance of being quite wrong about what you think you know. Play along with his audience quiz — then, from Hans’ son Ola, learn 4 ways to quickly get less ignorant.”