You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Whether we call them adages, aphorisms, or proverbs, they are old and well-known sayings commonly held to be true and often given as advice.

QUICK QUIZ: Ask yourself if you agree with each of these sayings (Yes/No).

  • Birds of a feather flock together.
  • Opposites attract.
  • The more things change, the more they stay the same.
  • The only thing constant is change.
  • Look before you leap.
  • He who hesitates is lost.
  • Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
  • Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
  • Two’s company; three’s a crowd.
  • The more, the merrier.

These sayings are not often paired together. When we see them this way, we realize they are incompatible with each other. Yet, if we’re like most people, we find ourselves agreeing with each of these contradictions. We can do this because we realize they are oversimplifications and each can be true at specific times and in specific situations.

They didn’t produce much discomfort because they’re not very important – they’re just sayings.

Before you go on, click here to watch a 30-second video.

Now try some harder pairs.

  • Global warming is real.
  • Global warming is a hoax.
  • Marijuana should be illegal.
  • Marijuana should be legal.
  • Astrology is real.
  • Astrology is nonsense.

In each of these pairs, we believe one or the other, but not both. We can’t hold them both to be true, because they’re not just sayings, they’re positions and philosophies on issues that many of us feel strongly about.

The one we disagree with creates dissonance, which we resolve two ways. One way is to seek evidence that supports our existing beliefs. Another is to ignore or discredit information that contradicts our position. Next week, we’ll look at how we do just that.

And by the way, you’re never too old to learn.