Sunday, June 24, 2012

When Yelling “Fire!” Is Of Little Value

I’m having a moment this morning where I feeling like yelling “Fire!”.

As I review my briefings for the past week and for the upcoming weeks for my Wall St., government and military clients and contacts, I don’t like where the data points are trending.

I layer on ongoing scandals in institutions like the Roman Catholic Church and other organized churches, the massive failure of the Rio+20 Summit, the disguised intentions of many in the “green” space, the inadequacies in the UN as demonstrated by the Syrian disaster and how solvable problems such as world hunger and disease continue to run rampant and I think that if Jesus / the Buddha / the aliens / “whoever you are waiting for” are going to arrive, now is a good time.

I’m ordinarily an optimist who encourages others to see the glass as half full but today as I reflect on the data points that are trending in the wrong direction, I must admit that pretending all is well in the world is not helping solve our most pressing problems.  Promoting successes while ignoring failures or pretending they are not there is also not working very well.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is MUCH beauty and potential in the world and we must champion and promote such things.

However, the number of things that need to be fixed is growing rapidly and with ever-increasing significance and impact.  We need to grasp this and do something about them while they are within our ability to do so.

The people in power who make decisions on our behalf every day know this but don’t know how to share it for fear of creating a panic that will grip the world and make things worse.


Trying to educate people whose brains are already being painfully squeezed is like yelling “Fire!” in a burning theater.

In such a situation, the weak-minded will instantly have a mental meltdown or a heart attack and add to the problem.

The uber optimists will get angry with the alarm and will say that pointing out the existence of a fire is too pessimistic and should be ignored.

The people without a plan will trample each other to death while randomly or aggressively searching for an exit. 

The people who think they know it all will be indignant that a good movie is being interrupted and will immediately discredit the person yelling “fire!”.

The people who see opportunity to benefit from the disaster will sell useless products or ideas that won’t prevent the deaths of anyone in the theater but the theater-goers will feel better about their situation until the end comes.

Some people in the theater will decide that now is the right time to insist that the REAL issue at hand is the need for cheaper or more comfortable seats or that they should be able to demand that the seats be in their favorite color.

The politicians in the theater will insist as smoke fills the room that not only is there no fire but if people stick it out for the second movie of a double feature, there will be free popcorn for everyone. 

Meanwhile they go borrow some popcorn from the theater down the street, ask everyone in the burning theater to give back their popcorn so that it can be returned to them as free popcorn later or have their military beat up the people in the next theater and steal their popcorn. 

Between the two movies, they will deliver the message that if there was a real fire (which they assure everyone does not exist), it is the fault of someone else.

The media covering the event will over-analyze it, comparing it to past fires while offering nothing of value for preventing future events of a similar nature.  They will also reiterate the need to feel afraid for no reason in particular while not offering ideas to protect one’s self or enhance theater safety moving forward.

So yelling “Fire!” serves no function.

However, as I finish reading my briefs for the week, I am moving quietly but steadily towards the exit.

I am still very optimistic about our future.

But being an optimist often means we have to be realistic about what is happening around us and to take appropriate action in order to bring our optimism and the realism of our situation into alignment so that we can manifest our unlimited positive potential.

As for the people left behind in the “burning theater”, many times we have to acknowledge that we can’t save everybody.

If we get caught up attempting to save those who can’t or won’t be saved, we all go down together.

Such an approach is not being pessimistic or evil.

It’s being an optimistic realist (or a realistic optimist).

We need more of this outlook to create the world that we are capable of creating, saving that which is worth saving and that which contributes to a better, stronger world.

The Universe is not an optimistic system.  It is a realistic one with a mix of good and bad - beautiful things and ugly things.

Sometimes evil wins over good despite our best hopes, intentions and efforts.  After all, evil and good are often just perspectives, something many of us don’t like to admit.

With that in mind, those who live in the Universe need to make sure that their optimism is tempered with appropriate levels of realism if they are to live as productive a Life as possible.

And so while we should enjoy the beauty of Life, we must know how to react appropriately when someone yells “Fire!”, or better yet, take proactive action by seeing the potential for fire before the cry for help goes out.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


PS There is a great TED talk presented by Tali Sharot about the danger of unrealistic optimism, found here.

No comments:

Post a Comment