My Apology to the Crazy Conspiracy Guy in the Subway for Saying that He Was Crazy

A clock that is five minutes slow is never right, but a stopped clock is at least right twice per day.

Several months ago now, in warmer months, I had met a man in the subway that was trying to convince me that “Clinton and a handful of Democrats knew about the 9/11 attacks and kept that a secret from the incoming Bush administration to tank his administration.”

He had a lengthy explanation but I told him that “I just find it hard to believe that five Americans could know about something so huge so far in advance and be able to keep it a secret.”

He looks me in the eye and says, “Never find anything hard to believe.”

In the coming days I ridiculed that phrase on my blog, in conversation, even at my improv shows, “How can you go through life not finding anything hard to believe? What? Do you just accept everything that’s said to you as true? How can you possibly go through life believing everything?”

Six months later I am arguing with an acquaintance of mine regarding gun control and the conversation drifted (as these conversations do) to law enforcement in general and then to New York City specifically. I was trying to convince him how drastically improved the crime rates were in NYC over the last thirty years, but no matter what evidence I showed him he found it impossible to believe that law enforcement in NYC today was more effective than it was in the eighties.

I almost found myself saying, “Never find anything impossible to believe” and at that moment I realized what Crazy Conspiracy Guy meant.

When he told me “Never find anything hard to believe”, he was not saying “Find everything easy to believe”, he was saying “Be open minded to points of view that challenge your current views.”

We all resist attempting to believe things that challenge our views, because paradigm shifts are scary.

I don’t want to believe that our presidents allow thousands of Americans to die for party revenge, so I resist the idea.

My acquaintance didn’t want to believe that law enforcement could be effective because this would give credence to movements that want to take away his right to bear arms, so I resisted the idea.

Fundamentalist Christians don’t want to believe in evolution because if one part of their religion is untrue there is no telling how deep the faults go, so the resist the idea.

…and so on.  The thing we need to realize is that believing in something or not believing in something doesn’t make it true or untrue. Millions of people have absolute faith in one thing at the same time that millions of people believe in the opposite. Their faith doesn’t make it true or untrue, only truth makes it true.

So suppose that I spent a hot minute believing in Crazy Guy’s story about 9/11?

What if I actually used all of my brain power and forgot my so-called logic and believed that Clinton was instrumental in orchestrating 9/11?  Would that make it true?

Of course not!  It is either true or untrue and believing in it won’t change that.

What if after that minute of belief-as-pure-exercise I still found it difficult to believe?

Then there’s no harm and no foul, but at least you were open minded to differing points of view.  That makes you a better person! Kudos to you.

What if after that minute of belief-as-pure-exercise I actually accepted what he said?

Then you’ve just had a paradigm shift! Congratulations! Paradigm shifts are the best! It means you’ve learned something profound. Kudos to you.

What if after that minute of belief-as-pure-exercise I actually accepted what he said and it’s wrong?

Then you’ve had a paradigm shift (which is awesome) and since you’ve proven yourself to be open-minded, when new information comes along you’re likely to switch back…or at least attempt to believe the opposite.  You also have to realize that probably about half of what you believe is wrong anyway, so switching your views from time to time will just even out the wrongness or rightness of what you know.

It sounds like a lot of flip-flopping, but you know what they say about a stopped clock…the only way to have your clock as accurate as possible is by constantly adjusting it whenever you can.

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