Bias number 37 is known as declinism. This is a cognitive bias that has people view the past more favourably than the present or the future.
Underlying this bias is the belief that society or an institution such as religion is suffering from a state of decline. This belief sprung from Edward Gibbon’s 18th century tome, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
In the book, he made the case that the loss of civic virtue resulted in a general attitude of laziness, arrogance and outsourcing important tasks to foreign elements amongst the Roman people led to its demise. He wrote the book as a warning to the European nations to learn from the mistakes of the past so that they could avoid a similar fate.
It seems as though his warning has been ignored and promptly forgotten, as we find ourselves in the current political state of intense upheaval and mistrust of government amongst the masses.
Oswald Spengler repeated the warning in his book, The Decline of the West, as the Great War (or the War of Horrors as I would prefer to call it) came to an end in 1918. He believed that all civilisations rise and fall and that decline is inevitable.
Personally, I think he made a very valid point. You only have to look at nature to see that things rarely move up in a continuous fashion. At some point, they are destined to fall and die out. Even our sun, a star that has been warming and lighting this solar system for billions of years, will eventually cease to shine its light.
It is the way of this Universe. For me, it suggests an inherent fairness that might not be readily obvious until you consider the fact that domination by one group or one set of rulers stifles innovation and growth.
In the name of progress, isn’t it a good thing that dominant empires decline, making way for new blood to take the reins and usher in something new?
Interestingly, 70 per cent of Britons believe that things are worse than they used to be, according to a 2015 survey by The Telegraph newspaper. If so many people believe this to be true, is there some truth to it?
Psychologists see declinism as a “trick of the mind,” recognising this bias’s prevalence in older people who tend to romanticise their experiences in youth. Others believe older people tend to have fewer negative experiences as they mature in years, meaning they are more likely to remember positive experiences.
However, negative experiences, usually having a greater impact on the memory than positive ones, can also contribute to the presence of this bias, especially if the negative experience is a recent one.
This is all very interesting, I hear you say. What’s it got to do with business?
Well, quite a lot, actually, especially for a person who is in the twilight years of life as a businessperson.
Stop for a moment. Think about the conversations you have with others about business. Do you find yourself reminiscing about “the good old days”? Do you miss certain elements of your working past that have long gone from today’s way of doing things?
It’s OK if you do. I know I do.
My husband and I often share memories of going to the pub on a Friday afternoon (or Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday…) and not returning to the office for the rest of the day. Lots of “good ideas” got discussed over pint after pint or glass after glass that, for the most part, never saw the light of day in terms of implementation.
But that wasn’t the point. We let our imaginations run free as the alcohol continued to flow. We bonded over a bevvie or several. And we had a fabulous time doing it.
Boozy business lunches are, for the most part, a dim and distant memory of a time in which people took themselves — and life — less seriously. While my liver thanks me for it, there are times, I must admit, when I long for those carefree days.
And, I do wonder what sort of business environment my son will be entering, where anything he says may be misconstrued as “sexist” or “racist” or “something-ist.” Being a white male, he is a prime target for having every victim’s abuse projections thrown at him. Apparently even three-month-old babies show signs of racism, according to certain groups of people. Why not a young, white male?
From my work, I know that you see what you want to see. If you look at life through the prism of racism, even a lamppost can be viewed as such. Maybe it’s too white, black, red or blue. What did the lamppost designer really mean when she chose to paint the fixtures silver?
Really? When will we wake up from the madness? Where will the madness all end?
The desperate desire to prevent people from feeling negative emotions is creating a whole slurry of negativity that is not only unhealthy but downright destructive. If you allow the thoughts and words of someone else to run your life, you really are a victim of your own making. If you insist that your happiness and success are dependent upon the actions of other people, you render yourself completely powerless.
Do I advocate violence towards a person who is different in some way? Absolutely not. In the same breath, I do not advocate retribution as a way of obtaining justice for ill-advised, institutionalised injustice.
At some point, you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What is my fight aiming to solve? Is fighting the only way to solve it, or is there a better way?”
I, for one, look forward to the day when people are able to take off the biased lenses, get responsible for the life they create, and start to create a reality rooted in humanity. Ask yourself what part you are playing right now in accelerating the decline. You are just as culpable as anyone else for society being the way it is.
I don’t long for the good old days. I do envisage a future filled with people who exercise emotional responsibility. It is possible, but it won't happen until people give up the blame game. It starts by turning within and asking the difficult questions that most of us avoid facing, like, "Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? How are my actions responsible for keeping this way of being entrenched?"
At some point, humanity has got to turn its own decline around by taking on fear-based narratives and converting them into opportunities for growth. True brilliance in life arises when you realise that life's what you make it (thanks, Talk Talk).
There’s no time like the present to rise to the challenge. Will you?