The "Plane" Truth - Assumptions Keep Us Shackled to Our Beliefs (and vice versa)

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I had an interesting experience on the last leg of our trip home from Costa Rica. On the flight from Toronto to Winnipeg I was sitting next to a woman in her fifties from Winnipeg who worked for a large raw materials organization in the city. She’d been in TO for training on a new ERP system her company was migrating to, having kept their system for over twenty years. 

She talked the talk and looked the look of someone who worked in corporate Canada.

She was dressed in an upscale wardrobe and sported the requisite hairstyle, manicure and jewelry. She measured her ability to enjoy leisure by the number of trips she’d taken (mostly cruises) and the number of countries she’d been too, though barely visited. She also detailed what amenities were “a must” for her to have a good trip. And, once she felt she’d pegged my socio-economic class and my apparent career success thus far, she also sported the condescending attitude that is sadly all-too-often characteristic of those who reach mid-management and above.

She was firmly in place on the career and materialism hamster wheel and she beamed with pride about it. I wondered if she would ever slow down enough to wake up and wonder if there’s “something more” than the latest material or experiential acquisition.

I never corrected her assumptions, instead amusing myself with their constant flow, from our status to how decisions we were making were about “what we could afford” and to what we wanted in life and why. It certainly made for an amusing, though mostly one-sided, exchange. 

Here are some assumption highlights:

  • We weren’t married because we weren’t wearing rings.
  • We didn't have kids, so we were still young and establishing our careers.
  • We stayed at the hotel we chose because an upper-scale/all-inclusive resort was beyond our reach.
  • We weren’t highly educated because I was just “a trainer” and my husband was just “a plumber”.
  • We didn’t travel much because we simply didn’t have the means to do so yet.
  • Life would get better for us as our income increased (because that had to be our goal).

I found myself delighting in not feeling I had any need to set the record straight. If anything, we both had a positive exchange: she felt great about herself and the conversation kept me amused. 

Ironically, in the end, we parted ways believing it was the other who was wearing shackles.

Still, the conversation did give me pause:

When people get rich, they shed their skin-in-the game driven experiential mechanism. They lose control of their preferences, substituting constructed preferences to their own, complicating their lives unnecessarily, triggering their own misery. And these are of course the preferences of those who want to sell them something.
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Only The Rich Are Poisoned: The Preference of Others*
  • I wondered whether I was ever perceived the way I perceived her on that flight. The strong possibility of it is humbling and I know I can learn from that unease.
  • It told me that more of us in the FIRE community need to find ways of spreading the message in mediums other than in writing (online and in books) because the message doesn’t make it to the walking dead—and I didn’t help matters either that day. I’m sure we can start to find ways around the taboo.
  • I need to remember that, if I’m doing something because I know others will take notice, I should ask myself if it’s something I really want or whether I feel I need to “play the part”. If it’s the latter, I’m not truly free in my choices.

I received an unexpected gift at the tail end of that 10-day trip and I believe its effects will be lasting.


*Source of quote: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Only The Rich Are Poisoned: The Preference of Others