You might have said that when you bought a shiny new car, thinking it was unique in all the world. On your way home from the dealer you saw another car like yours. You smiled and waved, happy to find another obviously intelligent driver with excellent taste.
That went on for a while, and then your noticed your arm was getting tired from waving. There were so many cars like yours on the road it was impossible to acknowledge them all. How did that happen? Did everyone suddenly wake up and decide to buy that exact same car?
No, there wasn’t some mass run on “your” car. What changed was your awareness of that particular car. The frequency illusion (also recency illusion) happens to us all, and typically it happens when we become newly aware of something. It can also happen if we are simply very focused on an interest or object.
If Mitch (a fisherman) and I (a golfer) drove across the country together, I’d see more golf courses than he would and he’d see more lakes than I would. By the end of the trip my lake awareness would be higher, and so would his golf course awareness.
On the other hand, my wife just walked in to tell me than an ice cream store close to our house is closing after three years of being in business. We have driven by that store hundreds of times in those three years, and neither of us could have told you it was there. And we like ice cream!
Terrorists are everywhere.
Back in 1994 Frequency Illusion took on a new name, the Baader-Meinhof (pronounced badder mainhoff) Phenomenon. You don’t have to do much looking to learn that those are not the names of research scientists who discovered and described the phenomenon. In fact Baader-Meinhof was the name of a West German militant terrorist group that was active in the 1970’s. Huh?
In an online discussion in 1994 (online was pretty new then), one poster on a forum randomly heard the name Baader-Meinhof twice within a day’s time, so he called it the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, and the name stuck. But it doesn’t mean that terrorists are everywhere–in fact the name has nothing to do with terrorists. Which means they might still be everywhere. Like COVID in Arizona.
COVID-19 Cases in Arizona. How bad is it?
Because we live in Arizona, I occasionally get messages from friends and family asking if we are doing OK in the midst of the pandemic. (We are.) I appreciate those messages, but they tell me something beyond the fact that people care. They remind me that COVID-19 in Arizona is in the news.
I’m writing this on July 9, 2020. The “up-to-the-minute” data shows that there are currently 112,671 people in Arizona with coronavirus. That’s a lot of people, and it doesn’t count the people who have recovered. But another way to look at that is this: there are approximately 7,200,000 people in Arizona who do not have the novel coronavirus. Approximately 98.5% of the population here is COVID free, and 1.5% is not.
I don’t want to minimize the pain, the suffering, and the terrible impact many people have experienced with COVID-19. This is a scary and deadly illness, and you do not want to have it. If you have a compromised immune system, a challenged respiratory system, or any of several other physical issues, you are especially at risk.
Some people are at great risk even though they seem otherwise healthy, and no one knows exactly who those people are ahead of time. Every case of COVID-19 is one case more than I want for anyone anywhere. We want to slow it down and eventually get it completely under control. So if you’re in Arizona, stay home, wear a mask in public, and wash your hands frequently.
The Joni Mitchell song Both Sides Now says “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now.” It goes on to say “it’s cloud illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.” It’s a perfect line for us to apply to what we see around us every day, and the title is perfect guidance for what we should be doing.
It’s the same with protests (though those seem to have slowed down) and the machinations of Black Lives Matter activists. Everyone needs to look at both sides of the pandemic, both sides of activism, and both sides of all of the political arguments that are beginning to invade our lives. If we don’t, we may just see the illusions and not the real thing.
When Joni Mitchell tells the story of writing Both Sides Now, she notes that she was on an airplane reading a book. In the book, the author talked about being in a plane and looking down at the clouds. She looked out the window at the clouds (from above), put down the book, and started writing the song.
Maybe it will take you getting on a plane to see a different perspective. Maybe it will just take a phone call, or a Zoom call, or, when it’s possible, a lunch meeting. More than just getting together with someone who has a different opinion, though, it takes a willingness to look from both sides. It takes just a little courage.
Pick a view, then shift it
If you’ve played golf you know that the typical way to look at a hole is from the tee (where you’d start playing the hole) to the green (where you would finish the hole). But one of the best ways to learn a hole is to look at it from the end to the beginning.
The third hole on the course where I play is long and straight. There is out-of-bounds on the left and there are trees on the right. Basically you want to just hit it down the middle as far as you can, then onto the green.
But if you stand on the green and look back at the tee, you notice something that you almost can’t see from the front: the hole plays uphill! That explains why, for the first number of times I played the hole, my second shot came up short. With my new perspective, I’ve learned to calculate the distance as a little longer than the card says. And I’ve had better success playing the hole.
What if I agreed with the statement that Black Lives Matter because every life matters, but decided to learn more about the organization? What if I looked at it from the end to the beginning, like I did that golf hole? I might find things are different than they appear to be from the straight on view. You might give that a try.
Good and Evil and Statues
That is exactly what we need to do in virtually every area of our lives. Unfortunately what we find much of the time is simply proof of what we already believe. That is called confirmation bias, and every one of us is subject to it. We need to know about that so we can make an informed decision, not a misinformed decision.
George Washington, I’m told in some online ad or article or email, was a slave owner. I already knew that, and it seems to me that anyone who has any education at all should have known that.
There was only one leader in all of history without flaws and sins, and that was Jesus. It wasn’t George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Ghandi. It wasn’t Robert E. Lee and it wasn’t Ulysses S. Grant. It wasn’t Harriet Tubman or Teddy Roosevelt or Frederick Douglass or Mark Twain. It wasn’t Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Edison. It wasn’t David, King of Israel, or Alexander the Great, king of everything. It wasn’t you, and it wasn’t me.
But the people named above (other than me, and possibly you) lifted the world, led others to greater heights, and they still inspire us today. We shouldn’t think of those people as perfect, and we shouldn’t think of them as perfectly imperfect. We should see both sides, then acknowledge the side that truly defines the person.
To the people who want to tear down statues of people like Washington and Lincoln, allow me to apply a well known phrase: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Good and Evil in our lives
At Do Good U, we are about bringing more good into the world. In large part we want people to choose to do good, but we also want people to see good. That’s why we have more than 300 articles about people doing good on our site. Maybe one of those stories will inspire you to do some good yourself.
The media, in large part, will continually call your attention to evil. They don’t want you to do evil, I’m sure, but they put it in front of you so much that, after a time, it’s about all you can see.
Look for the good. Look for the redeeming act. Look for the positive, the helpful, the selfless, the humble, the kind, the gentle, the solid, the truth. As one writer put it, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Do that, and maybe you’ll experience the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon with good. Maybe you’ll even say about good, “It’s everywhere!”