We all have ideas that make us miserable.
Commonly those misery-making ideas come from our popular culture and we tout them as timeless truth. But bad ideas—popular or not—can cause a lot of mischief.
Let me give you a historical example of a misery-making idea.
In response to hoarseness and a sore throat, doctors bled George Washington, the ailing past president and a national hero. Bloodletting was the standard practice in many medical dilemmas. In 12 hours, the past president was drained of 80 ounces—about 5 units–of blood. That’s 35% of all the blood in his body!
One of three doctors attending George Washington was Elisha Cullen Dick. He protested the bloodletting. Dr. Dick suggested a tracheotomy to allow the patient to breathe. But the procedure was new and unsettling. The senior physician, James Craik, vetoed the idea. A doctor wants to be cautious in caring for such a revered patient!
So three doctors stood by as George Washington asphyxiated. They actually hastened his end with their bloodletting.
Today his illness, acute bacterial epiglottitis could easily be treated with antibiotics. Even then a tracheotomy would have allowed Washington to breathe as his body fought the infection. And it certainly would have helped him to have had all his blood.
Bloodletting was standard procedure for centuries—even millennia. It was practiced by ancient Greeks and was surprisingly resilient in medical practice until the middle of the nineteenth century. Some thought it drained out evil. Others thought it balanced the body’s humors. Some thought it reduced inflammation.
Today we cluck in disbelief that such a bad idea could have such staying power. There clearly was no evidence that it was effective—except the self-congratulation administered by practitioners when a patient survived the torture.
The question for our time is, how many preposterous things do we believe today that are as unwise as the centuries-long practice of bloodletting? How many things do we do with the best of intentions that mess up our lives and damage our relationships? What assumptions guide are lives and damage our prospects?
It seems that Will Rogers was right: “It’s not what we don’t know that hurts, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”
Let me give you a few examples of popular ideas that can be very damaging:
Many American believe that communication is the key to healthy relationships. Actually there is one factor that matters more than anything else and it isn’t communication. Talking can actually inflict considerable damage.
For generations, Americans have been taught that you can’t love anybody until you love yourself. This is utter balderdash. Striving for self-esteem in order to order to be more loving is as effective as bloodletting for curing illness.
America operates as if money were the most important key to happiness and well-being. Nonsense. But there is a three-part formula for a happy life.
The media are filled with warnings about every threat imaginable. As a result, most of us have unnumbered fears and anxieties. Most of them are senseless.
Most parents define their job as getting kids to do what’s right. Such a focus almost guarantees that children will turn out badly.
There are dozens of ideas that mess up our personal well-being, our relationships, and our parenting. We can make ourselves profoundly miserable and devastate our relationships when we guide our lives by bad ideas. Or we can learn better ways of thinking and acting. This blog challenges many of those bad ideas and offers proven paths to happiness and connection.
Morens DM. Death of a President. New Engl J Med. 1999:341;1845-1849. Pubmed 10588974.
Rogers, W. in Byrne, R. (1988). 1911 Best things anybody ever said. New York: Fawcett Columbine.