Obvious

What’s obvious to me isn’t necessarily obvious to you, and the same is true in reverse.

After four years of design school and over a decade working as a design professional, the kerning of typography—especially very bad kerning—stands out to me like a bright yellow warning sign.

Similarly, there are countless knowledge- and experience-based lenses through which you view the world that I lack. Thus, while it may be blindingly obvious to you what species a particular tree is, or whether the wiring on an electrical outlet has been done correctly, to me it’s not.

Our sense of what’s obvious is shaped by the informational landscape in which we exist.

This landscape is made up of the knowledge we possess, but also the stream of news and other up-to-the-minute data we consume, and the set of opinions and biases that exist within our social groups.

Raw facts, then, help determine how we see the world, but so does our peer group’s interpretation of those facts, the media ecosystem in which we spend our time, and other such influences.

It’s self-satisfying but careless to assume that other people who behave in ways we find to be confounding or inexplicable are ignorant, wrong, or morally inept in some way.

Often these people are behaving in accordance with their own sense of morality, values, and understanding of the world. To them, our behaviors are just as bizarre and incomprehensible.

Rather than reflexively passing judgement, then, it’s often more productive to assume that other people are essentially like us: at least in the sense that they’re trying their best to live up to standards that they consider to be correct and good.

If that’s the case, then it’s almost always worth our time to attempt to understand what’s shaping their sense of behavioral rectitude. What’s obvious to them that’s not obvious to us? And which of our obvious things are they lacking?

Taking this analysis a step further, what incentives shape the informational ecosystem in which they exist, which in turn informs their sense of obviousness? Who benefits in what way from them seeing things the way they do?

More difficult, but often even more valuable, is to then flip our scrutiny around and figure out what informs our own informational ecosystem.

Who’s shaping the information we receive and the opinions to which we’re exposed? What might mean for our perception of the world and what’s right? And how should we adjust our behaviors based on this new, broader understanding?

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