What I learned from tweaking my ankle

I’ve had an irrational fear of twisting my ankle since I stopped wearing Timberland’s or shoes like them (over 3-4 years ago).  This weekend I gave my ankle a tweak, and the first thought that ran through my head was, “this is why I don’t like wearing sneakers or trainers!”  As I hobbled around my apartment on Saturday through Monday, I stopped and took stock of my irrational belief.  It was irrational and wrong.  Thank you Daniel Gardner author of The Science of Fear.

I’ve never twisted my ankle in my entire life.  This weekend I only tweaked it.  It hurt and I wrapped it and was fine.  Instead of using this as proof that I was right about my fear, I realized that it was irrational and wrong.  Sure, it’s possible that I’ll sprain my ankle in the future, but my fear was unfounded.  I’ve never sprained my ankle.  I was succumbing to the “availability heuristic”.  The easier it is to recall examples of something the more common it must be.  I watch a lot of basketball and people roll their ankles often.  I can recall lots of examples, so I must be in danger.  I do kickboxing for exercise, so there is actually a good chance I’ll twist or roll my ankle, but I don’t have that fear there.  Why?  The Affect Heuristic: If it feels good, it must be good.  I feel good after working out, so I don’t think I’m in any danger.

I learned a lot of this from reading Daniel Gardner’s book.  I bring it up in this blog because this way of thinking I had to learn.  When most people are faced with facts that fit their worldview, they accept them.  When faced with facts that challenge their worldview, they reject them.  I’m working REALLY hard at fighting this in my own life.  When I am given facts that counter my worldview, I research them.  Not to prove them wrong, but to prove them right.  Why?  Because I don’t want to win an argument, I want to BE RIGHT.  I want to know what’s true.

Consequently, when faced with facts that agree with what I say, I try to prove myself wrong.  It helps to have someone argue my opinion and allow me to play devil’s advocate.  I then research to counter what would be my points.  This is a lot harder to do, but I’m trying.

I like to say that my goal in life is to eliminate as much ignorance as I can from myself.  I’m a really intelligent individual and what keeps me that way is my desire to know more.  I also like to say that the reason I’m smart is that I know there is a lot I don’t know.  (I talk about myself a lot evidently – I was cursed at a young age to an inordinate amount of introspection)

You see, when you think you know everything, you have nowhere to go.  If you don’t know everything, then you’ve got a lot to learn.

This is the problem with pundits, politicos and politicians, the belief that they KNOW.  By thinking you know the answer, or having an answer for everything, you can’t learn because you’ve left yourself no avenues to knowledge.  Think of the stereotype of the male driver who won’t stop for directions.  By stating, “I know where I’m going!” when he doesn’t, he’s going further down the wrong road.  I would love to hear a politician or pundit say when asked a question, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m going to work to find out.”  Of course, if someone actually said this from either the right or left, he’d be eviscerated.  But do we really want to be led by the equivalent of people who refuse to ask for directions?

Joe R.

— I highly recommend Daniel Gardner’s book The Science of Fear.  Another good read is The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner.


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