The GI Joe Fallacy
Professor Laurie Santos came up with this principle...based on the 1970s cartoon character GI Joe. At the end of every show, there was a public service announcement aimed at kids...
“Look both ways before you cross the street...”
And the kid would say, “Now I know...”
Then GI Joe would come on and say “And knowing is half the battle!”
Well Ms. Santos research at Yale University says that knowing is NOT half the battle...and that it is important to understand that knowing without related, targeted and directed action is almost meaningless.
Seems to me that Ms. Santos is learning what people in recovery learned a very long time ago...that you can know a lot of stuff, but if you don’t follow up that realization or knowledge with some actual action, then the knowledge becomes completely academic.
For example, using our GI Joe kid, if the kid knows to always look both ways before crossing the street, but never actually DOES look both ways, he is fucked. Eventually, sooner probably more so than later, he will get hit by a car. And the knowledge that he gained was pretty much useless.
Alcoholics and addicts are usually quite aware of their issues long before the consequences start raining down, but they are stubbornly unwilling or unable (never quite sure where that really lands) to modify their behavior to fit their knowledge...they have to become convinced that their lives are out of control, usually courtesy of a judge or police officer, before they are willing to change. And often times, not even then.
I tend to agree with Ms. Santos, knowledge is really just a small part of the battle. It is important to be able to acknowledge something, to gain information and insight. But without further action to shore it up, the knowledge really doesn’t mean very much...
Let’s take me for instance...
I realized 26 years ago that my drinking was a problem. I could see that it was killing me. Bad things were happening to me. I was out of control and it was just a matter of time before I ended up in jail, a hospital or the morgue. But I kept at it. I drank like that for years...things getting worse all the time, relationships were a mess, I couldn’t show up for my life most of the time, yet I could do nothing with the knowledge of my situation.
And even when the knowledge came to out weigh my denial of the reality of my situation, it was not enough to change much of anything. I had to find a way to have that knowledge be the catalyst for change. A major shift in my thinking and attendant behavior...before any real change would happen to the trajectory of my life.
Ms. Santos and her fellow smarty pants at Yale are moving forward and developing an idea that AA came up with a long time ago, self knowledge is not enough...if it isn’t coupled with action, then it is pretty much useless. This is why 12 step recovery programs work. There exists an education of the addict that is vital, a bursting of the bubble of denial...completely leveling the addicts bullshit and mental fallacies. But if the program stops there, the addict is high or drunk in minutes. What must follow is a rigorous program of action to effectuate real change towards sobriety and it has to happen daily, each day being the most important building block to a new way of living.
The evaluative process of the rest of the program, designed to “check” the addict into a new way of thinking and then living.
Sadly, most people only get the first part, the understanding of what is wrong with them. They think that is enough and so off they go to do what they have always done, now armed with the knowledge that this time it will be different because THEY KNOW BETTER!
But it doesn’t happen...most people do not recover. Most die after living a horrible life where everyone that ever loved them hates them by the time they are done. So sad. Beautiful beings of light, extinguished because they are unable or unwilling to change their behavior. They know what they are and maybe even why they are the way they are...but that is not enough to save them.
I know that the program of action works. I am living, breathing proof. I am most interested in the alchemy that happens on the cusp of self knowledge and action, what is it about the psychic change that occurs right there?
For me, it was when the spiritual world penetrated the intellectual world and nailed me to the spot where I could see that my will and ideas were never, ever going to get me anywhere other than where I was right then. My thinking and behavior had only a downward trajectory...if I was to recover, I had to allow spirit to enter and change me.
And I think that Divine guidance is operative in all change. Knowing you need to change is not enough. Taking steps to change is not enough to produce life lasting change either. So it seems that all change that is lasting occurs when the person is confronted squarely with their own humanness and inability to cause permanent alteration in their own thinking and conduct. At that moment, when they completely see that they are powerless and are wiling to seek some sort of Divine source, that is the moment that everything begins to change...really.
Well, that is what I believe anyway. I am capable of changing my own behavior for short stints: new exercise routines, eating habits, relational progress but the only time that the change is really totally altered is when I seek to invite the Divine into my life and then somewhat blindly follow the path that is laid in front of me. And, to be clear, I almost never agree with the path. I think it is stupid, painful, not likely produce the desired result...but my willingness to substitute Divine guidance for my own lofty intellectualism is the place where my life has always and forever changed...
I have to turn my life and my will over every single moment of every day if I want to change and have my life mean something. If I want to heal, if I want to change, if I want to grow and mature, all of those things can only happen when I surrender to something greater than myself.
I am super interested to know what Ms. Santos and her colleagues are learning about all of this. So I am taking her class at Yale. I will report back to this particular class what I learn. I suspect that while I will learn some new things that all of them will support what I already know from my own experience to be true: lasting change can only come when I surrender to the idea that my life run on my willpower alone will always fall amazingly short of any goal I could be arrogant enough to set for myself...but when I allow my life to be guided by whatever divinity I can believe in that day, nothing short of miracles occur.