Don Rogers: A case for real humility
Maybe I hadn’t had enough coffee yet at this week’s Good Morning Truckee.
The speaker, Joanne Marchetta, head of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, was rolling on familiar topics. Climate change. The travel bug now loving places like Lake Tahoe to death. Who can afford a home here? The vacation rental infestation. Traffic jams. Where will the workers live?
All crucial stuff. All eye-glazing at that early hour. We’d heard it all before. Over and over again. I might have gone for a refill around then, not realizing I was the only one in back drinking from a paper cup.
I perked right up when she shifted to something else entirely. Did I hear right? That an absurdly high percentage of us believe ourselves morally superior to the average person? In other words, it’s not us but all those other knuckleheads. Everything would be fine, just fine, if only they’d straighten themselves out.
And what did she say? The result of this mindset makes us each the raindrop not recognizing our part in the flood? Some Zen-sounding quote like that. (Actually Ruskin.)
Just the night before, I had finished David Brooks’ “The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life.” I found it fascinating if not entirely persuasive, my favorite kind of book.
Basically, the first mountain is all about me, and there’s plenty of me, me, me in our modern society, which many besides Brooks find skewing ever more toward hyper-individuality.
The second mountain is all about we, and in Brooks’ view living more the way humans were meant to live. For others. The highest value is not independence, but interdependence. In love, in work, in faith, in community. That’s pretty much the gist, in too brief summary.
It’s all about personal commitment to higher purpose, the raindrop recognizing its part in the flood.
In essence, Marchetta, like Brooks, was exhorting each of us to move off our first mountain — our ego, our self-absorption — and tackle the second. The harder and holier work. Also the more ultimately satisfying, perhaps.
But I’m a rampant individualist who like Groucho would never join a group that would have me. Drinking from a paper cup while others are rather smugly saving the environment with their ceramic, plastic and metal. Noticing we’re talking about reversing climate change at the airport, of all places, the very height of irony. Here’s where earnest local efforts to reduce carbon emissions are obliterated in a day’s takeoffs and landings, the epitome of thoughtless, wasteful luxury.
The airport is right there with the melding of rare metals, plastic and glass that make up our phones for symbolizing what we find wrong in the world today but wouldn’t dream of giving up.
As Greta might roar: How dare we?
Easy to play the critic, though, while at least a few neighbors are saving starfish, in keeping with the parable. Banning plastic in favor of paper at the grocery store. Skipping the straw. Washing the disposables.
It’s the Wobegone effect that caught my attention: Everyone’s smarter than average, and I’m above average.
Turns out we each give ourselves too much credit. We know a lot less than we think we do. We’re not that smart and are in no position to wax wise, never mind call out others. The more we presume to know, the more a cold dose of humility would do us good.
We don’t lack confidence, but the opposite. We think all too much of ourselves, suffering from a pandemic of cognitive bias that leaves us blind, not even aware we’re mostly making up what we believe to be true.
Call it an acute knowledge of our ignorance. How would we negotiate life with this awareness? Grounded in actual reality.
Would this make us a better people, less likely to troll and more attuned to learning from others, to working together and doing our part?
Marchetta and Brooks seem to think so. But hah, what do they know?
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.