Afternoon InquisitionRandom Asides

AI: If I only Knew Then What I Know Now

I was asked the other day what got me involved in organized skepticism. And if you ignore all the technical aspects, like stumbling across SGU and then meeting and being encouraged to participate by wonderful people like Rebecca Watson and the Skepchick team, then I suppose the main thing that really got me excited about skepticism was the fact that I was an idiot.

No, I really was.

I still pretty much am.

I am an emotional, flawed and an easily confused human. I am prone to believing what is easy instead of what takes time and energy to understand. I take wrong turns. I make mistakes. I tend to trust in people and things when I shouldn’t.

Skepticism as a method has become a bit of much needed protective armor that I have added to my arsenal of street smarts. It is a method I carry around with me that I can rely upon to help me figure out the best solution to many of life’s tricky problems. It helps me to dig out the truth that is often hidden beneath slick advertising or a web of lies. It protects me from making some of the mistakes I am prone to make.

One of the many things I would accept without questioning before I was a skeptic was that just being a good person and thinking positive thoughts would bring positive results. I never read The Secret but I did fall for a lot of the trappings that surround the premise. Just be a good person and things will work out. It’s karma, dude. What comes around goes around.

It seemed reasonable at the time. But really, it was just a bad idea that was easy to accept.

You know what I know now? Statistics don’t care how you think. Hard work and planning and then some more hard work sometimes brings positive results, but only sometimes. And these results have little to do with whether or not you are “a good person” and even less to do with wishing things well. It would have been great if I would have known that when I was younger. I might have been less angry, a lot less disappointed and twice as motivated to try harder. I could have done away with all of the self-blaming that comes along with that irrational mindset as well.

Live, learn and be skeptical.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were younger?

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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36 Comments

  1. That school simply isn’t as important as I’d always believed. If I’d known that despite dropping grades massively and failing university (in large part due to stress and fear of failure) I would still manage to end up happy, in a job I love doing and earning comfortable…. then maybe I would even have done better at it!

    1. That school is far more important than I wanted to believe. That dropping grades and failing out of college would hurt me immensely in the future. That there is huge value in formal education and that a handful of exceptions are not an excuse to forgo a degree.

  2. “How credit cards ACTUALLY work” Priceless.

    I wish I knew that people were being serious when they talked about the stuff they believed. I’ve never been a “Believer” so it’s only recently in the last 3 years when I found the skeptics & atheist groups that I found out that people really believe the crazy stuff they say they do.

    “Being a good person and thinking positive thoughts would bring positive results” Ill disagree with your sentiment on this. It’s nothing magical or secret related but just psychological. If you are happy & Friendly people remember you, think about you, are prepared to go out of their way for you. You get airline upgrades & a cinnamon bun put aside at your favourite cafe just for you. Even more its self perpetuating, if you are friendly and helpful you feel good about yourself.

    1. I’m not saying being a good person won’t make you more friends. I’m just saying that the idea that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to only bad people is a myth. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and it has nothing to do with how you focus your intentions or whether or not you are envisioning a new convertible Mercedes.

      1. Haha you got that one right. As you go through life I have met too many wonderful people who have had some terrible things happen to them.

        Other life lessons.
        Don’t worry about what you have no control over.
        Everything is better done with confidence.
        Life is short & you could die at any time, from any number of random pointless events. So enjoy your life, change what you don’t enjoy and cherish your loved ones.
        Your parents will be wrong about a lot of stuff even if they are smart rational people.
        Don’t try to dodge bullets because when the time comes you won’t have to.

  3. That making friends and socializing really is important. I spent a lot of time as a kid rationalizing my social anxiety by saying I just don’t want to go to parties/make friends/go on a date. If I’d just sucked it up and seen a therapist earlier I’d have been much better off.

  4. When life gets really, really hard, the people that are there for you are your real friends. It probably won’t be who you expect, but they’re the ones worth your time and attention.

  5. You DO choose your friends, and if someone hurts you or lies to you more than once, especially on purpose, they’re not your friend.
    Get rid of the people who treat you badly, no matter what you think the consequences might be – it’s not worth the wasted time, effort, and stress.

  6. It wasn’t until about 17 years ago whilst being shot at in Bosnia that I had my epiphany…I was wrong.

    It has taken as many years to change my way of life but even now I find myself sometimes slipping into my old ways and becoming that silent, sociopathic [email protected] that I once was…

    I have three beautiful children, J (girl) who is almost 18 and showing strong signs of the old me and hasn’t spoken to me in almost a year, C (boy) who has just turned 16 and has lesser but still visible traits and M (girl) who is 5 and I can even see bits of me in her…

    I wish I knew now that the manipulative, contrived ways of influence my biological mother used were so, so wrong…sociopath is not perfect but it is probably the most fitting word.

  7. It took me about 25 years and a failed marriage to figure out that my own feelings and self worth actually count for something and are worth defending. Of course, if I did know that when I was younger, the first marriage would never have happened, and I would be in a much different life today, which I wouldn’t trade for anything… so, I’m actually GLAD I didn’t know then what I know now. The pain was so worth it.

  8. I dunno… I always feel like these ‘time machine’ exercises end up in futility. If there was something that I know now that I could have known then, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I’ve made peace with the mistakes I made and hold no regrets.

    Guess I’m saying the same thing as The Gear Head Skeptic, but in different words.

  9. Hmm… my Asperger Syndrome?

    No. If I’d known about that, I may have sold myself short when choosing high school classes and activities, or gone to college at a school to which I could commute.

    That this one person in my life is certifiable? (no, really, she is)

    No, because then I’d have scared her away from Person Important To Me, and there wouldn’t be this awesome two-year-old in my life right now.

    To answer the question directly, I wish I’d known to take the driver’s test until I got it right as a teenager. Public transportation is decent where I am, but it doesn’t go everywhere, and it doesn’t run at all times. If I’d gotten my license as a teenager, that would have opened up some opportunities to me that I just don’t have now.

  10. I wish that I had known that succeeding in life is not a bad thing. Success is change, and change is scary.
    I wish that I had known that making friends was important (although my family moved around a lot, and it was until the 8th grade that I was in the same school for a complete year, so that isn’t entirely my fault, but still…)
    I wish that I had learned how not to speak about my self negatively. (I just looked… and all but 2 of the comments I have made here paint myself in a negative light.)
    I wish I had known how messed up I was going to be in my 4th decade of life.

    1. [comment type=”positive”]
      I just found out yesterday that I am an award-winning stage actor. I won best performance for my role in a stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula!
      If you’ve seen the movie (which is based on the play, actually) I played the insect-eating asylum patient, Renfield.
      [/comment]

  11. i) That with a little bit of coaching I actually have a reasonable singing voice. That I had to wait until I was 46 to find this out is a shame.

    ii) That in a good light and after a couple of a beers I was a reasonably good looking young chap who could have got laid a great deal more than I did, damn it, if only I’d paid more attention to superficial stuff like grooming and clothes.

  12. I have a recurring dream that I travel back in time and incarnate in my past self. I often wonder on this dream, and try to decide if I would do things differently. Would I go to Kansas State for school? It left me in a lot more debt, and UT had a better program for medieval history… but would I, if given a choice, skip out on meeting the friends I did (I’m going to ignore the time-travel questions of “if I failed to meet those friends in my redone past, would I lose memory of them?”; think “restored save game” instead of “Back to the Future” time travel). Would I take part in the Asatru community, given that lead me to my ex-wife, who is a friend of mine, and whose life would be far different if I hadn’t come along when I did? Would I teach again? I find that the experience really shaped me, even though I pretty much hated it. Given my neurochemical issues, how would my mind react to being put into a seven year old body again? Would the self-control I’ve learned as an adult transfer into that different of a biochemical arena?
    I think about these things alot.

  13. That making sure everyone who meets me likes me, as I was taught to do as a child, is not as important as being able to speak my mind in the face of ignorance and bigotry. At age 46, I still find it difficult to speak out when those around me don’t share my views. But I’m getting better at it.

    That it’s okay to say, “No,” just because I really don’t want to do something. No stupid excuses necessary.

  14. What do I wish I would have known then that I know now? That sending my husband to school for a doctorate in chiropractic would be a source of embarrassment to us for the rest of our lives. Good thing he uses his degrees to teach legitimate anatomy & physiology and pathophys instead of being a huckster. If we could afford to do it over, he would have used his undergrad degrees for something else (med school or post-doc biology?) An expensive mistake for sure. :/

    1. On the positive side, you get to be skeptical heroes for escaping from deep woo (even if you stepped in it yourselves in the first place ;-) Congratulations!
      .
      Could you someday post more details of how this came about? It might be useful to the rest of us to know what people, events, facts or arguments influenced you the most. Many of us have friends or family members who are deeply invested in pseudoscience or alt-med. Thank you.

  15. I would tell myself:

    a) that most of my psychological quirks would actually turn out pretty easy to cope with as I got older and sought out better environments, and

    b) that constant detachment and lack of awareness of my environment was not one of those things that I could easily fix myself, and that I’d be better suited to go to a competent professional who could address those problems (and not the psychologist that my parents found for me, who was oblivious and obsessed with hypnosis, and drove me away from any kind of mental health care for years).

  16. Wish I had known that sometimes it’s OK to break the rules. When I was young, I had such respect for authority that I didn’t rebel or question nearly enough. And when I did question, I didn’t necessarily see that as a good thing. I thought there was something wrong with me. I’m over that now!! Almost. Well, I try anyway.

  17. That there is no overheated cellar for me to be sent to just for liking fellow Homo sapiens sapiens that sometimes happen to have the same fun bits as me.
    Also, that losing my family isn’t so bad in the long run, because we can always build a better and more loving one.

  18. I wish I’d have known about the sunk cost fallacy. I might have changed majors in college, instead of sticking to a major that I had realized that I probably was not cut out for a career in, just because i had already invested so much work into it.

  19. OK, I think I have a better answer now: I wish I knew on the first day of high school, when the counselor told us that these years would be the best years of our lives, to run up to the front of the class, kick him in the nuts and call him a lying M.F.’er. Then kick him in the nuts again.
    Thank you.

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