Would you bet on your child’s life?

The last example we’ll discuss on how strategy is crucial and why it matters in real life is taken from my introductory lecture on critical thinking, and it is probably the most important. Imagine your child (or any other, if you aren’t a parent) becoming ill. His or her condition is bad, but easily curable. As generally happens with anything, health included, there are several available solutions. How to know which one is the best to choose? Is it enough to simply have the best intentions, the highest will to do the best for our children, and the strong belief of doing the right thing? Sadly, the answer is clearly no.

Imagine this scenario: you are offered two remedies/therapies. Now, according to all available evidence, the first therapy has been tried in thousands of cases and never worked. The second one usually works well, although there might be complications in some rare occasion.
Of course, there is (always) a further option, which is doing nothing. Some conditions will heal by themselves, but let’s suppose in this example that the illness may be fatal when untreated, although only in some cases. If we put this in numbers, in terms of chances that the children will survive, suppose that with option A and C (with C being “no treatment” and A being the treatment that had no effect, hence they are basically equivalent) the survival rate is 90%, while B has a survival rate of 99.9%. This is an hypothetical example, but I have chosen this number for a specific reason.

I wanted this example to be especially relevant to most people’s everyday life, and therefore I used a good baseline survival chance: which means that the condition would not seem so bad in the first place (as most will recover with no treatment), it would not be easy to detect the difference with personal experience alone (suppose a child in 1000 gets this condition: with those numbers the difference between the therapeutic options will be an average of only 10 saved children… in 100000! ), and therefore it would be a perfect set up for all kind of pseudoscience and fraud remedies to tackle in.
Now, those numbers might seem not that high, and they are not. Yet, this example can be also formulated in an other way: your child will have either a very very low 0.1% chance of dying (with option B), or a low, but significant and much higher 10%.

This is a case where the Functional Mindset is extremely important, although the fatalities are actually not high and the disease is not too common. 10 lives in 100000 is not an especially high number. If you have a child, there is only a chance in one thousand they will get this medical condition, and even if he or she does, it still is very likely that the outcome will be good whatever you decide. Think of any other child you might know, and the risks he or she faces is still that low. This means that, in practice, you are actually quite unlikely to face personally any consequence whatever you decide, and its very possible you will never ever realize this is an issue for anybody. It is simply a too uncommon even for you to get any clue of the outcomes by personal experience alone. However, if people do choose option A or C, somewhere there will be a child dying of a condition that would have been easily prevented and cured. Now, my example was general and theoretical in the exposition, but this happens in real life. There are children who actually die because parents make decisions that, from a strategical point of view, achieve something else than maximize their children health and survival rate.

You might be curious about how common it is for a parent to make decisions so poor its own child will die. Unfortunately, quite common. This might surprise you, but it shouldn’t: it will feel it is an other S.E.P., Somebody Else’s Problem. In different contexts, I discuss a lot of cases where children have been killed simply by applying beliefs that a huge percent of people have. In some cases the majority of people. It is actually not unlikely that you believe some of those ideas. They are common fallacies. The point is that, in many cases, there will not be consequences, just as in my example above. So, actually, by promoting or even simply tolerating beliefs that, accordingly to any available evidence, has been conclusively been proven wrong and that can be fatal in some circumstances, we, as a culture, are all responsible of those rare, but existing, deaths.

It could be argued that promoting, as a culture, tolerance and acceptance towards pseudoscience and unsubstantiated beliefs will inevitably lead, although not that often, to more extreme cases where a child is forced to go through hell before eventually facing a sure death for conditions that could be easily cured. I will not discuss further the many ways we, as a culture, sentence children to death, often after suffering excruciating pain, because we do not think in strategical terms and critically. That’s the scope of my other works, courses and books, which aim indeed to point out all the details of this very issue (along as the other bad things that happen in the world because of our lack of strategy and critical thinking).

Here, as promised, the goal is to keep things as close to us as possible by taking examples from the everyday life of each one of us. So, enough with children abuse for now. But in some cases I do want to point out how this affects much larger (and more important issues) such as health, life and death. No healthy person wants to put his child to a health risk, especially not one that is potentially fatal. And yet, we do it, because although we want our children to be safe and healthy, we fail to design a strategy that practically ensure this will happen. Failing to use strategy or critical thinking always takes its toll.

The most important principle of science is, after all, humility. Science is the task of being humble enough to understand our limits, and learn to recognize when we are wrong. Most of the consequences of failure, in our life, will be mild. Often we can be damn wrong, but still can insist of things being otherwise as, in the end, who cares of the consequences. If you don’t apply the Functional Mindset to, say, managing weight or learning a language, you may end up knowin a language less and weighing a few kilograms more. Which may be bothering you, but would not be such a great deal in the end.

But will you be ready to put a bet on your own child’s life to prove you are right in face of all contrary evidence? Is “being right” so important to our psychological well being, that we should be ready to pay even a price that high for our arrogance? I think you can guess what my answer is.

I hope this is convincing evidence of why, for everyone of us, it is crucially important to learn a new perspective. One that goes beyond natural thinking and decisional patterns.
Our brain is not designed to objectively observe the external world and to understand what is real, and even less to figure out what is safe or effective to achieve our goals. Whenever we think naturally, meaning we passively accept the patterns that our brain is designed to follow, we miss the amazing opportunities that are offered to us by learning to think in a strategical and critical way.
Serious examples and cases such as this last one are the actual reason why I have chosen this career path. And, although in my usual practice I mostly focus with my clients on other things, I try to never miss the bigger picture. That’s why I try to not only to help people to achieve their specific goals, but to understand the Functional Mindset in general. As an evidence-based coach, that is my mission. Of course, I do enjoy helping people to lose weight, making their muscles more flexible, learn a new language, achieving personal satisfaction, and so on. These are all very fulfilling activities that do mean a lot to my clients and that do matter both for them and for me. But, in the end, my true an final hope is to show, by doing so, how important and helpful it is to learn to apply these concepts in general. As individuals and, hopefully, as a society.
Sure, the Functional Mindset is a great tool to learn how to obtain a practical goal we are aiming for. But it will bring its real benefit, to all of us, only after we will stop seeing it as a mere tool to exploit when needed, but as new perspective on anything.

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