Sell Your Cleverness

We know less than we thought. (Rejoice!)


About not knowing

With the possible exception an audience at a magic show, most don’t like the feeling of not understanding how (or why) things happen. For this reason, many magicians are wise to craft their art as entertainment rather than deception. The desire not to appear naïve is so strong that people will often pretend to know when they actually don’t.

While this article could be about how many adults have a 4th grade understanding of the Bible, religion, and God, it is not about that. I hope to give you a good taste of not knowing so that you can look at what “not knowing” feels like.

That’s all … pay attention to your reaction as I explain a human, mental phenomenon. How you react in this “closed laboratory senario” is probably aligned with how you react in the real world. So, buckle up, and let’s see how you react to finding out that you didn’t know as much as you thought you might have.

The human phenomenon with which I hope you are not very familiar is called the decoy effect. I want you to notice your human reaction to learning that you probably (or actually) understand less than you thought you did.

(OK, let’s pause here. Perhaps you already are having a reaction just to me implying that you might not know so much? Good to notice these things … and now, let’s move on to the main event.)

The “Decoy Effect”

Think back a few years. Al Gore and George W. Bush were in a heated race for the United States presidency. (It was the year with the “hanging chads.”)

You might also recall that Ralph Nader ran as an independent. Many liberals, who would have supported the political activist otherwise, cursed at Nader for taking votes away from Al Gore, leading to Bush being declared the winner.

The decoy effect, otherwise known as the asymmetric dominance effect, says that when there are two options, people make one decision. But if a third option is introduced, it changes the way people perceive the first two, and they may make a different decision.

For example, if there’s a five-star restaurant five miles away and a two-star restaurant two miles away, it’s hard to know which to choose. If we add a third restaurant, a four-star restaurant six miles away, all of a sudden the five-star restaurant five miles away would make more sense. On the other hand, if we had added a one-star restaurant three miles away, the two-star restaurant two miles away would seem like a better option.)

Read more about how marketers use the decoy effect to “help” you make a decision. <<>>.

The idea with the election is that maybe Nader was the third option and actually steered votes to Gore! Some people, undecided between Gore and Bush, looked at Ralph Nader and then voted for Gore because, to them, Nader made Gore look better than Bush. (We will never know the exact number on either side.)


You might notice that you begin to rationalize. You might back-date a thought to tell yourself that indeed you figured this out a long time ago. (This is similar to people who have been fooled by a magic trick and then spout half-baked notions of what happened or even whether it happened at all.) Notice your reaction to learning something you didn’t know. That’s the point, after all. To notice the beauty of being a human being. To notice our awareness, how it flits, and how we enjoy some parts more than others.

How well can you stomach the notion that things in this world are not happening exactly why you think they’re happening? Maybe we just don’t know as much as we thought we did.

I know that before I knew about the decoy effect, I didn’t suspect that Nader actually got Gore any votes!

How about you? How do you handle this new information? Do you pretend to yourself that you already knew about this? Do you brush it off as meaningless?

Sell Your ClevernessI am a big proponent of not knowing. In my book, not knowing is a good thing! While not knowing can feel uncomfortable, it beats the ridiculousness of certainty and self-delusion.

I will end with a quote by Rumi who said, “Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment.”

Let’s be bewildered together and not know and get comfortable in not knowing.

#wisdom_biscuit: Embrace not knowing.

Few problems are solved by an email your in-box.

This is an exception.

40 curiosity-satisfying, soul-nuturing messages from rB
Plus $130-savings on patience

Wonderful! You did it. Look for an email soon! (Unless you want to work on your patience, of course.)