I went to a local convenience store recently, to deliver a gift to a young Pakistani fellow who works there. A man walked into the store and bought some lottery tickets, and then started complaining, “We have things too good in this country. The unemployment rate is so high, but I can’t even find someone to hire to carry some heavy packages.”
When I challenged him on that, statement, he asked if I knew what the national unemployment rate was. I answered, “A little less than 9%.” Then he asked if the unemployment rate in Pittsburgh was higher or lower than the national average. “Lower.” I answered. “Wrong!” he retorted. Later, when I returned home, I checked the actual data. I had given the correct answer, as I always try to do. He quoted figures that were either outdated (they would have been true at one point during the Bush administration), or simply what he wanted to believe.
In the course of further discussion, he praised the U.S. and cast aspersions on European countries and cities, saying we were headed toward resembling those “socialist” countries. I asked him if he had ever been to Europe, and he answered “Yes.” Then I shared with him my own experiences in France and Germany over twenty years ago, where I witnessed technological innovations that were ahead of the U.S. at that time. I also pointed out that other countries had a higher percentage of cell phone users and better internet access than we have in the U.S. And I mentioned that public education in the U.S. did not compare favorably with many of those countries. He denied all of that, preferring to express what he wanted to believe rather than face facts.
If I could have kept him standing there for just ten more minutes, we would have been able to watch a UPS driver back his truck up to the store and deliver a dozen packages so bulky that it took him four trips from truck to store to complete his mission. It would have been interesting to see how the fellow I had been talking to might have handled the reality of that situation. It would have been reminiscent of Samuel Johnson kicking the stone and saying, “Thus, I refute Bishop Berkeley!” Might I have been able to point out to him that if UPS, Fedex and the US Postal Service could hire people to handle heavy loads, perhaps the problem lay within himself? I could have, but it is doubtful that he would have listened.
The lesson here is that dogmatic and doctrinaire thinking may be useful for finding excuses for one’s shortcomings, but it is useless in solving problems in the real world.