SUMMARY: There seem to be two basic ways of thinking. That is, thinking in absolutist terms or thinking in probabilistic terms. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps wisdom consists in knowing when to use one or the other.
(About a 5 minute read)
When I became a fire fighter, I had to change some deeply ingrained ways of thinking. For instance, growing up, I had thought largely in terms of absolutes. Something either was or it was not the case. My teachers were either good or they were bad. An idea was either true or it was false. A classmate was either nice or he or she was not.
Yet, few things are absolutely certain in a fire, and absolutely counting on something is a good way to get yourself — or your fellow fire fighters — injured or killed. In fact, fire fighting requires realism perhaps more than anything else — including courage. And realism often enough boils down to thinking in terms of the odds something will or will not happen.
That is, realism requires you to largely think in terms of probabilities. The man in front of you on the hose line is not going to advance. He is likely to advance. The nine foot high wall of flames in front of you is not going to be knocked down by your stream of water. It might be knocked down. The room is not safe to enter. It is possibly safe.