cognitive errorsI’ve written a lot here about cognitive errors – how our minds lead us astray. It’s human nature to filter out information that runs contrary to what we already know, to overestimate things that have emotional impact, and fall prey to emotional reasoning, believing that what we feel must be true.

Even being aware that it happens, it’s still sobering to see yourself do it. We were out hiking last weekend with friends and with our 14 year old Lab-Malamute mix, Ranger. Like many senior dogs, Ranger has some trouble with his back and legs. He had run up ahead, and when we came upon him, he was stumbling around, his back oddly twisted, and his left leg dragging under him. He clearly had hurt himself, but we didn’t see how he did it. We felt along his back and legs, to see where he was hurt, but we couldn’t find anything. So we thought we’d continue and see how he went. We walked along for another hour or so, and he seemed to walk more steadily, with less limping. So we went home, kept an eye on him, and after dinner, checked on him one more time. Suddenly we saw a spot of blood where he had been lying. We grabbed a flashlight and looked under his belly and to our horror, saw a gaping 8 inch gash in his groin and abdomen area. He had impaled himself on a salmonberry cane, and for 5 hours, had walked, gotten in and out of the car, ate dinner, and lay around with an open gaping wound. And because we already ‘knew’ that he had back and leg troubles, it never occurred to us to check for something else. Like the old joke of the man looking for his keys under streetlight because that’s where the light is. Only this wasn’t a joke.

He’s OK now. The worst part for Ranger was the anesthesia and for us, spending an all-nighter at the vet hospital in Lincoln City.  But now I’m left with thought, what else am I missing? What else don’t I know because of what I know?

Expertise, mastery and feeling comfortable in our knowledge of our field, of ourselves, or of others is a great thing. But the lesson for me in this story is to remember the shadow that my knowledge casts.