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Law 6: Elevate Your Perspective (The Laws of Human Nature)

Law 6: Elevate Your Perspective (The Laws of Human Nature) 1

The Law of Shortsightedness

 I can calculate the motion of bodies, but not the madness of people. – Isaac Newton 

There is an animal part of you that is highly tuned to the present – the latest news and trends, the opinions of people around you, or whatever is most dramatic. You should learn to filter this noise. Do not associate with those who don’t see the consequences of their actions, or act on their whims on every opportunity that dangles the promise of quick money. Think long term, and strategically, look at the bigger trends, and not the smaller ones. Don’t lose sight of your long term goals, they are what matter the most. 

John Blunt and The South Sea Company

John Blunt was a lead director of the South Sea Company in 1719. Suddenly, he grew anxious as he witnessed the spectacular success of the French with the Mississippi Company. France became prosperous because of the proceeds that the Mississippi Company yielded from the U.S state, and Blunt wanted the same thing to happen in England.

So, he bought government debt in exchange for shares in the South Sea Company and then sold these shares to the public. In effect, finding a new way to solve a major problem that the English government faced: growing debt. This seemed to work for a while. First the wealthy investors poured in, and then thinkers like Alexander Pope and Isaac Newton, and finally everyone was eager to invest everything they owned into this company – especially as news had come that the company would soon be setting up in South America (the land of the gold rush).

Newton invested a significant amount of his life savings into the company but removed his money a couple of weeks later after he began to grow skeptical. He doubled his money. But the frenzy continued, and the share prices kept rising. Many stories of actresses and ordinary people making a fortune and retiring overnight began to spread.

But then things got out of hand, there was a bubble. Many companies began to pop up and issued new shares after the share price of South Sea Company reached extraordinary heights.

The problem was that there was only so much money in England, and whatever was invested in these new, speculative ventures would not be invested in the South Sea Company.

Blunt, who had been knighted, and been celebrated across all of England for making so many people wealthy, faced a difficult situation. He acted fast and got the government to pass a bill that made it much more difficult for companies to go public, and he created new, much more attractive deals for investing in the South Sea Company.

This worked, more investment was indeed funneled in. Newton himself reinvested his money. But an unintended consequence of this new legislation was that people who had already money invested in the frozen new startups could not take their money out!

They had no liquidity and had to sell off their shares of South Sea Company. This had the effect of driving the share price into a downward spiral. Panic had set in, and since this trading company had not even published any records of business, everyone became skeptical. Everyone lost money in what was known as one of the biggest busts in financial history. Like the crash in 2008, people had no idea what they were doing with their money, they were shortsighted, they followed the trend. Even Newton himself followed the madness of the crowd. And Blunt, who was the instigator and the person most responsible for the mess, was influenced by the recent explosion in growth that was happening in France. It was a chain of events that quickly unfolded, each person mimicking the next, and the final result was disastrous.

Modern Short-sightedness

Today we are addicted to our twitter feeds and whatever is trending – whether the news or sports events or scandals. By paying attention to the immediate events of the world, the recent stories of people, we become too distracted to see the bigger picture. We become enmeshed in the frivolous.

But humans are naturally short-sighted. We tend to only see ahead in months or a year or two at most. There is no connection between the child and adult you, so much changes across time that you feel disconnected completely from your past. And so, by filling your time with trifling things, life becomes a meaningless dream where one desire is fulfilled and the other is merely waiting around the corner, but with nothing ever providing you with lasting satisfaction. There is no meaningful connection between your past and future. 

This is not to say that you should be a monk and never indulge in pleasure, but you should always be aware of time and what is most important, to have perspective. Acknowledging the reality of death, for example, and not trying to numb the pain with quick fixes makes you more focused and realistic. You appreciate life more when you understand that it is finite, fragile, and fleeting.

We take drugs, drink, and smoke without considering the long-term effects because our brains are hardwired to respond only to what is immediate. This is because our minds are constantly looking for our next source of food, but in today’s world with so many technological triggers, living this way is not sustainable. By meditating on the idea of death, by living more slowly, we can see further into the future and live more meaningfully. 

Imagine climbing a mountain. The climb is slow and gradual, and during the climb you will see things more clearly, but only if you are patient enough. The finiteness of time will push us to try harder to reach our goals, but it will also inspire us to take a break, and to gain perspective over what we are chasing after.

If you are overzealous, you can jeopardize your own future. A colleague of yours is busy and not taking your phone calls, so you double down your efforts and push him away. He no longer sees you the same way and is now much more reluctant to work with you. Your lizard brain sabotaged a good relationship. He was not returning your call because he was busy working. If you had been more patient, you have would have had a valuable ally in the future. Or a beautiful girl comes into your life, you become friends at first, but then with time, you realize she is pathological and has too many problems. She makes your life hell. What seems great in the present, turns out to be horrible in the future.

By living more slowly, more deliberately, we can see things more clearly and not be fooled by initial appearances, and not be so easily triggered by our animalistic emotions.

The years teach much which the days never know.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Read The Laws of Human Nature

2 replies on “Law 6: Elevate Your Perspective (The Laws of Human Nature)”

There is a concept of latent knowledge: that which you have experienced but yet to fully realize since it has not been internally processed–it hasn’t come to fruition in the form of wisdom because is still only in the realm of the subconscious. The ‘years…days’ quote helps to illustrate this.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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