How do you deal with life? An odd question, perhaps, but every day when one goes to school, reads the newspapers, watches television, talk to people, you are dealt a huge amount of information to filter. Information that is subject to individual interpretation, the “spin” of the teacher, the writer, the presenter or the author.
Read any newspaper today and in every daily edition you will read the stories that start “…in a survey of 127 people …”, or “scientists have now concluded that …”, and goes on to say that such and such a product is now good/bad/healthy/unhealthy for you. Or common “wisdom” suggests you shouldn’t fly a particular airline because it is jinxed. Malaysian Airlines for example where an aircraft has gone missing and when the same airline has had one of its planes shot out of the sky through absolutely no fault of the airline - and don’t say they were “wrong to take a short cut” – there was a procession of luckier aircraft that went through that very same air space in the hours before Malaysian Airlines.
And the food surveys, “best” diets, wine studies, chocolate reviews, but also parenting, fashion, political and economic forecasts – whew! The list goes on and on and on. Surely this information, or perhaps misinformation or half –truth overload will get you in the end. Red wine and chocolate were supposed to be positively good for your health. Recent studies – at least by headline – now suggest they are no longer so wonderful. But the evidence in the reports actually seems to say that while they are not bad, they are actually no better than anything else comparable. Oh, and today we learn that sitting is more harmful to your health than smoking. Really? I am now standing up to write this.
Of course the business world has found the answer to all of this in “Big Data”. Always assuming of course that you have the right person or team to ask precisely the right interrogatory questions of that data!
But the information dispensed doesn’t stop with things like food, health and safety!! It also stretches to broader political issues. For example the “black warning” (just recently reduced to “amber”) imposed by the Hong Kong Government on travel to the Philippines because of the shooting of a tourist bus carrying Hong Kong tourists in 2010. A tragedy, for sure, but if the tourists had been from another country, would the shooting have also prompted a travel ban to the Philippines by the Hong Kong Government? I think not. And if such bans are purely on grounds of safety and security, the same HK Government should perhaps issue at least an amber warning in its own country for the way mini-bus drivers operate their vehicles!
The trouble is that this information overload is often more confusing than helpful. These interpretations by third parties can shape peoples minds into narrow channels to the extent that they cannot see a broader picture. It stifles rational and independent creative thought, and it makes people stressed and depressed. It also prevents some people moving on for fear of taking missteps, or being criticised.
A recent practical example is a question I had from someone who asked if they should still go on a trip at the end of this month for a break because they were going to a country that has a minority Muslim population. With all the problems in the Middle East (even though the country to be visited was nowhere near that region), could those problems spill over into other countries?
The purely “to be safe” answer of course has to be yes, because you can never ever guarantee that what happens in one country will not happen elsewhere. Not every single member of the global community is a decent, law-abiding, respecter of human rights and human dignity. But that should not mean that you wake up every morning afraid to go out of your front door. Or stop eating because some study of a few people has shown a particular food to be carcinogenic in 80% of mice but only if they eat 15 times their bodyweight.
By the way, my advice to the travel question? Go! Statistically you are more likely to be hit by a wayward bus in Hong Kong than being a victim of a terrorist attack.
We are being smothered by studies and statistics. We are perpetuating the dissemination of all sorts of information by means of (anti) social media, often without any consideration of accuracy. We are adopting an attitude of “I heard it here – so it must be right”.
Well of course as an individual you are entitled to do and think whatever you want (subject to the laws of the country in which you live of course!!), but there seems to be a need for more individual thought, an individual assessment of situations and not just a blind acceptance of information because someone else has done the work. Moderation in all things is an adage that has generally stood the test of time, together with common sense and perspective.
Everyone is different. Me? I guess I am a fatalist at heart. On balance, I do enjoy life. I have ups and downs like everyone else. But I also like to consider individual situations on the merits as assessed by me in the light of the information I can obtain. It means keeping an open mind, and it does not mean that I will always get it right – indeed, far from it, but I am not going to stop doing something unless there is a good reason – and if I’ve got it wrong then it was meant to be, but at least I will have lived my own life and not one prescribed by a myriad of conflicting studies and reports.