“There are two kinds of people in this world; those that enter a room and turn the television set on, and those that enter a room and turn the television set off,” says the character Raymond Shaw in the movie, “The Manchurian Candidate.”
There are people who wish to sell us things. Advertisers want us to buy cheeseburgers or shampoo. Leaders, like principals and bosses, hope we buy the idea that following all the rules is important and makes us a good student or employee. Politicians want us to believe that voting for them will make life better for ourself, our family, and our community. Effective leaders are good at using special ideas, called memes.
Memes are ideas that infect our minds like a virus. A virus works by entering another person (or a computer) and making copies. Even though a meme acts like a virus in our mind, a meme is not always a bad thing. It depends on what the idea is about. Richard Brodie writes: “a meme is a thought, belief, or attitude in your mind that can be spread to and from other people’s minds.”
A fad like wearing a beard or using Instagram is due to memes. This is a meme: “Instagram is the way to connect online that gets me more friends.” Another meme is: “Men who wear beards attract sex partners.” Do you believe these memes as true? Where do these memes come from?
Before seven years old, we take in the memes of our parents, neighbors, schools, and culture. We are programmed like a computer with these memes. I can believe that “I am intelligent” or “I am stupid.” Either one of these beliefs effects my performance at school or work.
The patterns in our brains evolved over millions of years. If we look at archeological sites, we can see that our environment changed very little over most of the time. Only in the most recent time, our environment started changing so fast that our daily routines changed in a single lifetime. Memes supported our lives for millions of years in a world that changed very slowly.
We live in a world today that is changing very rapidly. Think how much smartphones have changed our lives. I no longer use a telephone book to find contact information. I receive and send text and emails that travel all over the world in an instant. We have a tremendous mismatch between the writing of our prehistoric brains and the complex opportunities and challenges of modern life.
Advertisers, politicians, and sales people use memes to influence us. We can be programmed like a computer, metaphorically. Our minds are programmed by using repetition. Commercials repeat the same idea over and over. We are also programmed by confusing us with conflicting information. I remember a vacuum salesman at my childhood home. He was talking so fast, explaining about the monthly payments. I just wanted him to leave and stop pressuring my father. Salespeople can talk so fast that you feel trapped. We may feel the only way out of a painful sales pitch is by being rude or is to buy something. Another method of creating a meme is by attaching the idea to food, sex, or danger of some kind. The most powerful memes are linked to sex, food, and danger, such as a way to protect your children.
Too often, sex sells Budweiser or Nacho Cheese Doritos. We are being manipulated by smartphones, television, malls, and cruise ships. The price may be right, but what is the cost. I sit for a timeshare presentation to receive my blanket and my bottle of tequila. I am on vacation for a limited time, but I am spending my time listening to a salesperson talk as fast as he can to manipulate me into buying a timeshare. I feel trapped. People often take the bait and buy the timeshare. Often, this is a poor financial decision.
Life can feel overwhelming. We can make ourselves depressed with our beliefs. Our thoughts have a significant influence over our mood. Our worldview has a big impact on the quality of our life. Please watch this video and learn to think about depression differently: