2016 was a year in which I learned and observed much about the direction our world is headed. In 1964, Bob Dylan opined “The Times They Are A Changin'” but the real truth about it is that everything always changes. Yet, the more the times appear to change around us the more the human experience remains uniquely predictable.
“The answer is blowing in the wind.”
Social and environmental factors have driven change in every age. In fifth century BC the Athenians formed the first Greek democracy. Half a millennium later a carpenter from Galilee crusaded for religious humanism. A 17th-century polymath challenged an authoritative church-state in the name of scientific progress. In 1215 the Magna Carta laid the groundwork for the end of feudal monarchies. The Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution, a civil war to abolish human slavery, the Industrial Revolution, a couple of world wars, and capitalistic globalization show that the times were always a-changin’. The real question is: Did I write that or is it just a verse from Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire?
Amid a whirlwind of change over the past 2,500 years, the one constant has always been human beings. It is their desire for happiness and stability that fuels these dynamic social revolutions. Individuals may have different or restricted access to resources across time (technology, education, or even freedom), but humanity is constant.
The internet and social media is the defining cultural footprint of our age. In particular, social media has drastically changed the way people interact, exchange information, and even relate to one another. There is obvious upside (people have greater access to information) but also a cost. People can say things to one another without accountability. Information can be posted and downloaded without the necessity for accuracy or fact checking. We live in an age where the line between fact and opinion is rapidly becoming blurred.
They give us fact or fiction? I guess an even split.
The true skill in an age of unlimited information of varying quality is the ability to disseminate between fact and fiction.
Your Opinion Is Irrelevant
I’m going to present a general premise. Having opinions is necessary, but overrated compared to experiencing new things and being open to drawing new conclusions.
To have an opinion requires at minimum two factors: First, one must know something of the subject. Second, the individual must have considered the subject and decided where he or she stands on the issue.
René Descartes wrote, “I think, therefore I am.” Implied is the idea that using the mind to reason is what defines existence. Emerson expanded on the idea: “A man is what he thinks about all day.” Thinking, and what we think about, is the foundation of existence and identity.
Experience the world—draw your own conclusions.
From a young age children are taught that their views are important and define who they are. Our core beliefs should be as unshakable as oak. In Hamlet, Polonius suggests: “This above all: to thine own self be true.” Sound advice, whether it comes from the Bard or a trusted friend or family member. Yet, better still might be to strive to be true to the best possible version of yourself.
There is no doubt our thoughts and opinions are important to us as individuals. But it is useful to realize the scope of holding a view is limited. There are seven billion people on the planet—how many will be impacted by your viewpoint on a particular issue?
The great thinkers urge us to think. Descartes used present tense—”I think.” He didn’t say, “I thought about it when I was sixteen, my parents told me what side of the issue we are on, I made up my mind, and I’m sticking to my guns on this one…” The emphasis is on the moment, and the importance of continuing to reexamine ourselves based on our experiences.
If having an opinion is most relevant to the person holding the opinion, then why be resistant to changing or modifying it? In a lot of cases I’d speculate the answer lies between a stubborn or misguided interpretation of “to thine own self be true” and an outright refusal to listen to a different viewpoint.
Let’s wrap up this section by drawing a parallel between Magic and life. How many times have you made a poor deck choice because you clung to an outdated or poorly reasoned point of view? Do any of these examples resonate with anybody out there:
- I like blue control decks and I’m going to play one whether it is good or not.
- My deck is bad against a particular popular strategy, but instead of adapting I’ll hope to dodge the matchup for 15 rounds.
- I refuse to play a particular deck because I don’t like it.
- A friend shows you a new brew and you dismiss it as terrible before giving it a chance.
These instances demonstrate the MTG equivalent of stubbornly standing by a poorly reasoned opinion. Experience and known information dictate that a better choice or opinion is possible, but the player chooses to stick by what they want to believe rather than adjust their viewpoint.
The one most injured by an unwillingness to change their point of view is the person who refuses to change.
Opinions and ideas are wonderful and help shape how we see the world. But you don’t get bonus points for keeping the same ones the longest! Constantly challenge yourself to think outside your comfort zone and consider new things.
The Danger of the “Correct Opinion”
Another observation I’ve been thinking about is a trend where people are obsessed with having the correct opinion.
Let me start by saying that I’m not political and don’t like politics. I almost never bring them up because they are so polarizing and most people’s opinions are derivative and boring. But I believe both sides are equally guilty of making a mistake in assuming their opinion is the correct one.
People put a lot of energy into thinking about their beliefs and I would argue that all individuals spend their entire lives in pursuit of these ideas. Our ideas are important to us. Based on the rigorous time people put into forming their opinions, it is safe to say most people see their outlook as correct in a general sense rather than in a correct-unto-themselves sense.
Everything breaks down when people believe their opinion is correct and any opposing point of view must therefore be either ignorant, brainwashed, or outright stupid. How else could they not have come to the same obvious conclusion that I did? They must be intellectually flawed or stunted for not seeing it my way.
It doesn’t help that 144 characters isn’t an efficient means of intellectual discourse.
The idea that there is a universal, correct way of looking at the world is flawed. No matter how tolerant someone tries to make that set of values, it will be inherently intolerant or dismissive of anybody who disagrees. It makes me sad and ashamed that we live in an age where there is a necessity for separate news outlets to spin the day’s events in accordance with the viewer’s ideologies.
In Magic, as in life, never assume that your ideas are better or more correct than somebody else. A few years back, a friend of mine, Devon Paynter, built a rad G/R Temur Battle Rage deck when the RIW crew were playtesting for an Open. All of the grinders outright dismissed it as a cute deck. I had put a ton of testing into a deck and was confident in it. Before I left for the night he asked if he could get a few games against me.
He promptly bashed me.
Bashed me again.
I immediately switched gears and audibled to his deck. Two days later I won the Open. It was easily one of the best positioned Constructed decks I’ve ever played in my entire life. Ten other people who tested could have played the deck, but didn’t. Why? A deck full of Titan’s Strength isn’t a “good deck.”
There is nothing cute about Become Immense…
I could have been a snob and dismissed his idea. The point is, rather than looking for reasons his deck was bad or wouldn’t work, I was interested in finding potential. Sometimes an opportunity falls right into your lap—the perfect deck, for instance. The key is to keep an open mind about things that don’t immediately gel with what you believe to be true.
Red decks lose to Siege Rhino. Fact. But when they tap out for Siege Rhino on turn 4 I can untap and attack for 30. Also fact. It turns out that one of these facts was fiction.
Don’t fall into the trap of knowing that what you think is more correct than what somebody else thinks. It’s fine to disagree, but to assume that anybody who disagrees with you is “wrong” or “ignorant” is dangerous. The world is a better and more interesting place because there are different kinds of people with different viewpoints.
Your Actions Are Relevant
We live in an age where having an opinion and making it known is easy. There are millions of people on social media with strong opinions, and what is actually being accomplished? I acknowledge that raising awareness for a cause has value. But in many cases, social media facilitates posturing for friends more than generating real awareness.
I have a respectable following on social media and let’s say I go on to Twitter and say: “Racial intolerance is intolerable.” I assume roughly 100% of my friends and followers already agree with me. What have I accomplished? What awareness have I raised?
In a world where having and sharing an opinion has become so easy, taking action has become increasingly important.
It is one thing to come out and say that you are anti-bullying. It is another to lend support to somebody who is dealing with a bully or stand up for somebody who is being terrorized.
When they play bully be a hero.
I remember when I was in middle school, there was a kid on the bus who got picked on by a group of older 8th graders. I could tell that everybody hated it, but for days nobody said a word because they were afraid it might provoke the aggression of the older kids. Finally, after a couple of days a random, average guy stood up for him. He said: “Leave him alone. He’s a nice guy. Nobody thinks what you are doing is funny and everybody wants you to stop it.” Because somebody finally took action, everybody else agreed and backed him up and they knocked it off. I guess the bullies thought they were impressing everybody and were embarrassed to learn that nobody liked what they were doing.
That moment has always stuck with me. I think back and wish that I hadn’t been afraid, and had done something sooner because it was the right thing to do. A bus full of people with an opinion wasn’t worth one individual who was willing to take action and actually do something about it.
The same lessons can be applied to Magic. An opinion is fine and often useful, but what you do with those observations and experiences is what makes the difference. Playing the matchups. Learning the interactions. Observing the data. Making adjustments. Listening to others and keeping an open mind. Staying positive. Having a plan. Doing the work and drawing your own conclusions.
It isn’t as important as standing up for somebody in trouble, but what is? In life, as in Magic, be willing to consider ideas that are beyond your comfort zone. Instead of approaching a new idea and looking to immediately discount it because it is different, look for ways to incorporate it into your way of thinking.
I think, therefore I learn and change, and therefore I am the best version of myself.