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Much Ado About Everything

by on February 19, 2017 5:00 AM

We live in a world punctuated by an amazing number of outlets for our opinions, points of view, assessments and expressions of our feelings and emotions. Whole movements have been created based on raw emotions and unvarnished feelings. Outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram crowd the electronic airwaves while services like Amazon allow would be publishers (me included) to create books, in both print and electronic forms (such as Kindle) to put together whole tomes of information, assessments and notions in huge quantities. 

 It would seem this landslide of free speech has driven some to be stressed out as little significant filtering has taken place at the individual level. What is important and what is not important is related to those things in life to which you are committed. It isn’t that a lot of things aren’t important. Rather, it’s that they are likely to be relatively unimportant to you and the things in life to which you are personally committed. Unfortunately, we cannot all be committed to everything, no matter how justifiable the cause. If everyone committed fully to every cause, nothing would get done.

Filtering that input with which you are most concerned is an important part of critical thinking. While filtering can sometimes blind us to things that are important (check your filters occasionally, please), they are critical to allow us to focus on those things which we have decided are critical to us and that help define who we are as individuals.

For example, I don’t listen much to fashion news and I probably dress like it. (Fortunately, guys can just throw on a standard business suit and get away with it.) Likewise I don’t spend much time with aesthetic things, not that art is not important, it is just not very important to me. Thankfully, it is important to others and to some is a passion. Sure, I stumble into some great expressions of the arts in music on occasion, but I don’t spend much time there. Others, of course, do. I spend more time pondering the vagaries of economics and investments, and I truly appreciate those who do not, else there would be little room for an investment advisory business.

Quite a while back I was fortunate to take a three year course in applied linguistics.  The course was led by Dr. Fernando Flores, a Chilean politician, linguist and successful businessman, and it centered on our addiction to the validity of others’ assessments about ourselves.  We worked through our way of being in the matter, slowly unwinding the notion that what others thought of us was important and defining as to who we were.  

Dr. Flores taught us that we needed to define ourselves and as a result impact the conversation society had about us in such a way as to further our commitments.  Our group included federal judges, college professors, politicians and entertainers, successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, some wealthy, some relatively un-wealthy --  a cross section of folks most of us would assess as successful in life. We spent a year dealing with the notion of assessments of all kinds because we were naïve in the matter, despite the fact that we were all well-educated. We went from understanding the subject of linguistics (learning the forms and implications) to developing practices in everyday life. We went from understanding to knowing in practice.

It was in the process that we learned and incorporated into our daily lives the idea that what others thought of us was only an assessment. It could be grounded or ungrounded and although we had not given the speaker permission to make the assessment of us, we were willing to talk with the assessor more about this in the future.

It was in this process that we learned to define ourselves critically and to reject the notion that the opinions of others were more important than our opinion of ourselves. Dr. Flores would call this our “Yankee Affliction.” Yet the assessment of others is important in a larger conversation, one that we as individuals can manage by our actions and words. While we have freedom of speech, free speech is not without consequences. Society at large will judge us and shut down or open possibilities for us based on its assessment. Our job as successful people is to manage the conversation that society has of us and to manage it in such a way as to promote those things to which we are committed.

I am amazed that the study of linguistics is not taught -- indeed, required -- in our high schools and college level education. It is critical for clear thinking, just as courses on rationality and logic are helpful in navigating our way through life. It allows me to filter much of the wheat from the chaff and to see what is important to me, my family, clients and what is likely to have consequences now and into the future.

We live in a time of change with its attendant stresses, demonstrations, shrill admonitions and disagreements. The old order is being realigned here in the United States and in Great Britain and perhaps in Europe. It is being done peacefully, thankfully. Who will benefit will depend on whose ox is getting gored. Nevertheless, change is here and we need to adapt and recommit to those things that are dear to us. It is time for critical thinking and careful consideration before we open our mouths, spout our opinions and run off to demonstrate for - or against - whatever.


Dan Nestlerode was previously the Director of Research and Portfolio Management at Nestlerode & Loy Investment Advisors in State College. He retired in 2015 after 50 years in the investment business. A graduate of Penn State University, Nestlerode became an investment advisor in 1965. He can be reached at [email protected]
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