Downside of Literal Interpretation

Often our confidence is shaken simply because we’re too literal in our interpretation of what’s being said. Reports on the new tax legislation is a prime example.

Media misdirection

The media have been beating us over the head with the “fact” that the corporate tax cuts are “permanent” while individual tax cuts expire in a few years.

I ask you “Do you know of anything that’s permanent?” Come on, it’s a law…a law created by men which means that it can be revised or completely reversed in the future. The corporate cuts, regardless of the language associated with them, are no more “permanent” than the individual cuts.

Economists have a saying that illustrates this point. They say “There are no fixed costs in the long run.” They are referring to the fact that given enough time facility costs (rent, maintenance, property taxes, etc.) can be adjusted by changing location or renegotiating the lease. The same is true for all long-term costs…costs that may be “fixed” (immutable) in the current year.

Embracing the word “permanent” in this tax legislation is just one example of how we, multiple times each day, allow literal interpretations to upset us and manipulate our thinking.

I have no idea what impact this tax bill will have on the economy. Noted economists admit that they aren’t sure either. I do know that if it isn’t working politicians will face tremendous pressure by the voting/tax-paying public to reverse a bad decision.

Liberal interpretation

The advantage of my liberal interpretation over the media’s literal interpretation is that I suffer less stress than most people. I don’t fret over “possible” outcomes when there’s no evidence that one is more likely to occur than the other.

I take comfort in the fact that we all learn and adapt as new evidence appears and situations change. This mindset is what allows me to be more liberal than literal in my interpretation of the things I hear and see. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I also look for incongruities between what I hear and what I observe.

In the tax legislation, the word “permanent” triggered such an incongruity. I know of nothing that is permanent. Every aspect of life is dynamic…constantly changing. Knowing that why would I accept the premise that a tax cut is permanent? More importantly, why would I allow a literal interpretation to shake my confidence in my ability to learn and adapt?

For you

The next time you feel yourself being upset by something you see or hear, ask yourself “Am I interpreting this too literally? Is what I’m being told congruent with what I know from previous experience?”

The answers to these two questions will go a long way to alleviating the fear and anxiety you would otherwise experience.

For our kids

Teach them early, and often, not to be too literal in their interpretation of what they see or hear. Yes, that includes your directives. Their challenges may help you both reach a better result.

As the kids in your life become more liberal and less literal in their thinking they’ll experience less anxiety, fear, stress and fewer problems. In other words, a great life.

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