Yesterday I overheard the tail-end of a conversation between two women. The concluding statement was something like, “And you know him — He likes to analyze everything because he’s a teacher.” She said it as if being a teacher causes one to be an analyzer.
Statements like this are commonplace. We (myself included) think them and make them all the time. The problem is they’re not always correct. In fact, I think they’re often completely backwards. How did the women know that his being a teacher caused him to analyze everything? Instead, maybe it was his analytical nature that carried him down the path to teacher-hood.
You might think I’m nit-picking here (I’ll grant I do that a lot), but I think this everyday “trivial” thing actually has some potentially big consequences.
Take, for example, higher education. Most people think that you go to college to “get educated” or “get smarter.” But what if the cause-and-effect here is backwards? What if it’s not “going to college makes you smarter” but “being smarter makes you go to college”? There’s a lot of evidence that the correct way to look at college is, in fact, the latter of those two phrases — enough evidence that I know someone writing a book on the subject. If enough people (particularly those in charge of public policy) think “college makes you smart,” then policies get pushed that encourage college-attendance. But if it’s being smart that makes you go to college, maybe there are a lot of people going to college who shouldn’t be. Anyway, I’m not going to discuss this example any further, because soon enough we’ll be able to read an entire book about it.
I merely want to encourage you to try to pay attention to all the times in the day that people make claims that “x causes y,” and then stop, and really think about it. Question it. Say to yourself, “Does x cause y, or does y cause x?”