Get Off the Escalator

I spent the majority of last week scribbling a mountain of notes, largely unreadable to anyone but myself, as I sat among a group of 23,000 or so colleagues at one of the largest annual real estate conventions in the country. Being a perpetual learner, it’s the kind of event I look forward to as it gives me a chance to revisit my business, feel guilty about the things I know I need to improve, and gain insight from other successful operators in my field.

But despite absorbing a tremendous amount of knowledge from the myriad of  speakers, panels and well-crafted presentations, the most pervasive experience of the week had little to do with entrepreneurial improvement, but rather was a revelation of human observation.

I’ll explain.

As the doors opened at the conclusion of the week’s first segment, I was carried out into the corridors of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center by a sea of departing peers in a furious rush to beat the crowd to the next event. Looking down the quarter-mile walkway I clocked the line for the descending escalator already backed up by a swarm numbering in the several hundreds.

Now if you’re anything like me, lines have always presented themselves more as a challenge than an obligation, so I instinctively began searching for an alternative route to make my way to the mezzanine. After a few moments of exchanging ‘excuse me’s with a handful of attendees, as I fought sideways against the masses, I stumbled upon a not particularly well-hidden exit door and proceeded through into the stairwell beyond, hoping it would be at least somewhat less packed than the bottleneck up the hall.

To my surprise, I found the set entirely empty, trotted down a single flight, and washed out just few feet from the first arrivals, trickling down from the restless mob above.

Thinking little of the ordeal, I patted myself on the back for a mediocre display of heads-upery and strode quickly on to Ballroom C.

But as the week progressed, and I made a habit of circumventing the obstruction in this manner, something became undeniably apparent. I assumed that luck had granted me a sporadic token of its acknowledgment and that by the time I took the return flight up for the afternoon’s final offering the stairwell would be packed to the gills with other convention goers lacking the patience and willingness to share personal space for fifteen minutes for the luxury of having the stairs move for them.

I was wrong.

Four straight days. Twelve trips up, twelve down. Not a single person ever made an appearance.

After a while I simply accepted the fact that none of this was actually happening. It was clear to me that I had been killed by a runaway Uber that first day and this was my purgatory, banished to an eternity building killer glutes as I made my way up and down as some sort of strange external consequence for the things I’d left undone. But as I sit here, taking in the crisp Saturday air at the park near my home, I realize that can’t be true. Because dead men don’t get parking tickets…so I guess I’m still alive.

So what happened?

How is it that tens of thousands of people were more willing to stand shoulder to shoulder, shoving their way forward like a stage rush at some shitty 80’s band reunion show that everyone decided to wear khaki pants and bring notebooks to, than take ten seconds to observe their surroundings for the possibility of another opportunity.

Only as I type this now is it becoming easier to believe, and I think that’s fitting as my other two browser tabs are open to my social media feeds. And the correlation is remarkable.

I should warn you upfront, before you go any further. If you’ve ever read anything I’ve done and thought “He makes some good points, but I wish he didn’t write with such an arrogance about him.” well…buckle up. This is mostly a hatchet job about the people in line for that escalator, some of whom may still be waiting there for all I know, and just speaking empirically, a lot of folks reading this are going to fit that bill.
In the famous dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell writes of a culture embedded with a doublethink mentality. That is, the acceptance of two simultaneous but contradictory truths, normally without awareness on the part of the thinker. Not quite the same as hypocrisy, which requires an element of cognitive recognition, but within the same realm.

What’s ironic about that idea is that the novel is often referred to today as a forward-thinking encapsulation of what our society is to become. But that assertion is most often put forth by what I will here forward be referring to as ‘Escalator People.’

Escalator People are those among us that possess an entirely undeserved sense of self-assurance. That hold convictions with reasonless ferocity against the adversity of multiple possibilities  or the paradox of numerous truths.

Plainly, it’s those of us that believe we’re right without any real basis for our stances or ability to articulate why we feel the way we do.

Oftentimes this is the product of intellectual laziness or a habitual succumbing to whatever the most popular of the polarizing platforms happen to be at any given moment.

Other times it’s the product of environment or upbringing, a lifetime of being told to think or feel a certain way about something without being afforded any substantive evidence to support the notion.

But whatever the genesis, it’s becoming clear that Escalator People, unbeknownst to them, are perhaps the most dangerous constituency in society today.

To illustrate, imagine a group of thousands of people that never stop to think there could be any other way to descend a single floor than to wait in line for some unforeseen amount of time while they pile one-by-one onto a moving staircase.

Why do they believe this to be the only way? Because every else does, of course. No one ever told them they were allowed to think for themselves so they just follow the crowd and accept that there’s no alternative.

Now imagine that same group of people rightly thinking that it’s inhumane to oppress another group. Nothing wrong with that.

But then, in some strange twist of events that would totally never happen in real life but just humor me and go with it, news broke of some incident that, in reality, could be viewed from any number of perspectives and decided upon logically through a deducing of facts and simple logic, but was instead painted by a biased media source as having racist or xenophobic overtones.

Now we’ve got problems…

Please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying as an implication that I don’t care about the very real issues that we face today. Far from it. Rather, what I’m putting forth is the recognition that the world’s problems are exponentially compounded by a blunt refusal to think openly and act objectively on the part of the vast majority of those that insist on involving themselves in these matters.

It’s not that we don’t care about the issues, we just care more about strengthening our pre-existing beliefs.

Escalator People care less about resolution than they do validation. And this presents a very serious sociological paradox.

Where do we draw the line between what’s best for society and what’s best for our own self-image? 

There are few things more powerful than a large group of people with an excess of passion and a dearth of information. But those are the most vibrant trademarks of the loudest groups in today’s political conversation.

Escalator People have made waves in just about every national scene in recent history.

From burning down an entire town in Missouri to prove a point about racism to occupying Wall Street because of corporate greed or something equally obscure, Escalator People have utilized a groupthink mentality as the catalyst by which to express an angst they cannot validate through the use of formal reasoning.

“Everything the mainstream media feeds us is bullshit.” Says the man reposting an article he didn’t read but liked the headline when he saw it on his newsfeed and decided it represented what he already believed, as he waited for his turn to step onto the magic steps.

It’s not that these beliefs or actions are wrong, save for setting buildings ablaze as a way of protesting something that in no way involves the people that own them, it’s that, more often than not, they’re baseless on the part of those participating.

And, on a grand scale, that’s a very serious problem for a country in the midst of an identity crisis.

So what are the signs of an Escalator Person? How do we know who among us is guilty of following the crowd and turning over our powers of self-awareness?

Well, there’s no concrete set of characteristics by which to define them, but it’s good to have a litmus test.

Perhaps try casually noting to someone that Michael Sam just wasn’t a very effective DE against most pro-style offenses. If you’re met with a barrage of allegations regarding your obvious homophobia, you’ve probably come to the right place.

And understanding that this unfettered commitment to conviction, absent any legitimate foundation, is the catalyst of descent into an era marked by unwarranted fear, groundless assumption and tragically misguided action is the only way to deter the damages incurred by a demographic of people too careless to think for themselves but so determined to leave their mark that society itself collapses under the weight of it’s own, self-imposed internal conflict.

Here’s the deal, man, if we have any chance of the next 250 years of our nation’s story being as prosperous as the last, or even stretching that far into the future at all, we have to get off the escalator.

It’s time to stop thinking in black and white, to find solace in the fact that knowledge is gained only through the admittance that there is anything left to learn.

We are imperfect, all of us, and that differentiating truth is something to be embraced, not shunned or denied. We must accept the fact that a lot of our beliefs are probably wrong. Mine included, that’s why I invite my readers to engage with me.

So, in parting, I ask that you reflect.

What are your convictions worth? What have we gained in our refusal to explore any other perspective than our own? Have we made the world a better place? Have our lives been somehow more fulfilled?

There’s only so much room on the escalator. If we expect to have any chance at the brighter future for which we all claim to have the formula, somebody has to take the stairs





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