Common wisdom is difficult wisdom.

Focus your attention on the things within your sphere of control or influence.

Some of the best and hardest advice to heed.

An interesting partner to this wisdom is this:

Have confidence in firsthand knowledge, and less with every degree of separation.

Just as you have a sphere of influence – things within your power to affect or alter – you have a sphere of knowledge – things within your power to perceive directly.

Never have I been more aware of the dangers of allowing second, third, and umpteenth hand knowledge to impact my worldview, my mood, or my sense of optimism or autonomy. We live in a world awash with information. Most of it is bad. I don’t mean bad as in true news that I dislike. I mean bad as in the information is inaccurate, if not wholly fabricated or misrepresented.

In fact, it’s gotten to the point that the more “official” weight information has – from well-funded media organizations or “verified” sources – the less likely it is to be directly provable, and the more likely it is to be false.

If I allow what I know about the world to be shaped by the sea of indirect information, I will know very little truth and feel very powerless. If I allow my perception to be shaped by what I directly observe, and add small dashes of indirect info with decreasing weight and probability the further removed, I will feel happier and more successfully navigate reality.

Where are these throngs of people irate over Starbucks holiday cups? I have never experience a single one first, second, or third-hand through real human contact. I have no experience of them in my reality. Yet if I believe the official stories, the world is full of them, and they are breeding conflict and discord. If I choose to believe the story told by strangers with a proven track record of lies, my life gets worse as does my view of the world. If I choose to believe my own eyes and experience and friends and acquaintances, the official storytellers look like useless hype men and fools at best.

Be wary of wandering outside your sphere of knowledge. Be curious, seek, explore, but do not treat indirect visions of the world utterly incongruent with your own observations as deserving of equal weight. Think probabilities. Think incentives. How likely is this source to be accurate given what they stand to lose or gain by you believing them? How immediately useful is this knowledge in improving your life or navigation of the world?

It sounds paranoid, but it brings the opposite. When you reserve most of your confidence for facts evident in your own experience, you are less paranoid. Every crazy story from distant sources brings less stress. You have a more solid hold on what you do know, and a looser grip on things farther afield that may or may not be true.