Sunday, June 28, 2009

"The Stories of Our Lives"

Michael Jackson – pop icon.  Michael Jackson – child molester.

Two stories snapshotting the same guy. Each story has evidence to back it up. One is true to a certainty. He was a pop icon. The other story’s backed by strong suspicions, which is enough to make it true to the people who believe it.

Stories are all around us. This weekend, we have houseguests. Their stories are visiting.

A selected sampling (in no way comprising the entire picture):

The wife expressed concerns about government-run health care with a story whose message was: “If it costs less money to chop your leg off than fix it, they’ll chop your leg off.” That’s a powerful story. If the woman believes that story – or has strong suspicions in that direction – it will be difficult winning her over to government-run health care. There’s that chopped-off leg story to overcome.

The husband is a Personal Injury attorney. He knows about the Power of the Story. His job is to tell the jury a story that will persuade them that his client has been wrongfully damaged. His opponents will tell the jury a different story, a story that will persuade them their client is not responsible for that damage. The outcome of the case will be determined by which story the jury finds more persuasive.

The truth of the situation? It’s not really an issue. All that matters is what the jury believes is true. And what fuels the belief that causes them to be swayed by one story more than by the other one? I’d give a big vote to personal experience.

“The government never sent me my tax refund.”

How’s that person going to feel about government-run health care? The folks who never sent him his tax refund responsible for administering questions of life and death? No, thank you. Maybe the unsent tax refund only happened once, but to the person it happened to, that’s all the evidence they need.

“The hospital gave my cousin the wrong medicine and he died.”

Someone’s suing a hospital for negligence. That guy’s on the jury. Is there any question which way they’re going to vote?”

The memory of past experiences gives us evidence for our current beliefs. But we don’t remember everything. We assume that’s because our brain isn’t big enough. But maybe that’s not the reason. It seems like there’s a selection process going on. But what is it?

What makes us remember what we remember, and forget what we forget?

I’m jumping ahead to something I think I know. Once our belief about an issue becomes set, whether it’s about some thing – Kate Hudson movies – or someone – our spouse – or some group of people – “Them” – or some institution – “the guh’mint” – we then tend to retain in our memory only those examples that support that belief.

As the supporting examples mount up, our belief grows progressively more unswerving. Before you know it, it becomes an “always”, as in “The news media always distorts the facts” or “‘Jerk-face’ always leaves in underpants on the floor.” For that particular believer, it truly is an “always”, owing to their having filtered out all memories of when the media was on the money and the underpants were in the hamper.

But that’s down the line. That’s after the belief has already been established. What I don’t know is the reason for the original step. How does your belief become your belief in the first place? It’s not inevitable. Consider this:

You’re a little kid. It’s the first time this happens to you:

You fall down, your parents let it pass, you get back up. What do you remember from that experience – your own resilience, or your parents’ “neglect”? And – the important question – what led you to make one selection over the other? The question is important because whichever “lesson learned” you absorb will color your experiences for the rest of your life.

My hunch is the explanation lies in the genetic sphere. But I really don’t know.

What do I know? I know some unclear-to-me process determines what we choose to remember, and what we remember justifies our beliefs. Those beliefs then go on to motivate our actions, and reveal themselves though our stories.

I think about these things. It’s my world. I tell stories every day.

I wonder why I remember some stories and not others. I wonder about my story selection process And I wonder why I tell the stories the way I tell them.

This is important to me. I’m exposing these stories to the public. What exactly are they saying about me?

What do your stories say about you?
The "scheduling" function on my blog doesn't seem to work anymore, so I can't write stuff one day, and schedule to publish it another day.  I now have to publish manually.  To give you something fresh to read in the morning, I will have to publish the night before.  I don't know why any of this should be of interest to you.  I just thought I'd pass it alone. 


Anonymous said...

Are these 'leg' people crazy? Don't they realize that this decision is presently made by private insurers, if they are lucky to have one, who don't have their interests at heart either?

A friend of mine, practicing in sunny Florida, was told by private insurers that she could only 'see' clients ten times and that was it! If she hadn't 'cured' them (people with serious psychological problems) too bad. Then they changed it to 7 times. Then to 3. Up here, you can kvetch to a shrink your whole life and not pay a cent!

While it's true that I must make appointments (for which my doctor gets paid) to get test results or prescriptions and pay a requested annual fee of $75 for advice over the phone or paper gowns to cover the 'administration costs', it's a pittance, compared to what hangs over Americans if they get sick.

The big philosophical shift is about money (twas ever thus)....up here it's not about cutting off the leg or saving it at all. It's about whether there are any doctors or nurses to take care of you, since many have fled to the U.S. where the big bucks are. Their incomes are somewhat limited to a mere half a million, in some places, and unless they get into delisted procedures like botox, face lifts and murdering patients during liposuction, they feel somewhat restricted.

Suddenly, everyone's a plastic surgeon. Doctors offices are beginning to resemble spas, with 'products' for sale and with posters of smooth faces staring at you in the examining room while you shiver in your paper gown, waiting to see your doctor, who must process you quickly on the 3 or 4 days a week he/she is allowed to work so as not to exceed the salary cap.
Resourceful young doctors pay off their med school debts or build up the salary by hundred of thousands of dollars for a couple of months service, by flying up north to places where there are no doctors, like anywhere that's 500 miles north of the American border. My friend's doctor-daughter zips up to the Arctic for a few weeks a year to tend to alcoholic and diabetes-plagued Innuit to pay off her tuition debts and her upcoming wedding. Established physicians rent out their offices to colleagues on their days off, to pull in extra income. Do you wonder why the medical establishment may not be behind this?

For patients, although it is not ideal, there is something to be said for not even having to think about medical costs YOUR WHOLE LIFE!!!
My kids take their tot to the pediatrician with the slightest sniffle, without ever having to think about the cost. When my mate has a kidney stone's right to the hospital where we sign in for semi-private, subsidized by my employer. True, he lies in an emergency room alongside poor people and even homeless, who are getting the same level of care he gets FOR FREE, so to speak, but we aren't such elitists as Americans, I guess, so we don't really mind.
If you examine (ha, ha) they winners and losers in this scenario, you will see that the winners are the regular and poor folks whose kids are sick or who get things like paranoia or kidney stones and can't afford to get medical attention, and the losers are some of the doctors who are forced to become specialists to make a 'decent living' of over a million a year, and most certainly, the rich folks, who can pay whatever it costs for the illusion that they will live forever, unwrinkled,surgically slim and cancer-free.

They don't want to lie in a bed next to an ordinary person and wait their turn when they can afford to jump the line.
And they like the idea that somehow, their leg will be saved because they decided it would be.

Nanook of the North

bbot said...

confirmation bias (Only looking for evidence for what you like)

Motivated skepticism (Applying skepticism only to what you don't like)

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine went to a seminar several years ago and was truly engaged by the speaker. The speaker's point was that we all tell ourselves stories all the time. For example - you walk into a room where a group of your friends are gathered. As you neared the door you could hear conversation and laughter, but as you step into the room it goes suddenly quiet. You can either tell yourself that 1) they were talking about you and don't want to tell you what they were saying or 2) they are waiting to hear what you have to say because they know they'll be glad to hear it. Our stories come from our experiences but can be changed by tweaking our self-esteem. This requires some effort from those who don;t have a normally optomistic view, but it's certainly easier to attempt one story at a time.