Democritus, Rick Barry and Arrogance

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Democritus and Rick Barry have given us prefect examples of what not to do when it comes to spreading our influence. We know that humans aren’t always rational when it comes to decision making. But these two had hugely massive value to share. However, one trait has killed their message.

Arrogance has shut down some of the best ideas on the plane.

Including the following two.


A messengers pride has been the death nail to some of the most valuable and influential ideas on the planet. Arrogance blinds influencers to reality. Consider this story. It’s a fictitious exchange between a US Navy ship and any entity the story-teller want

US Ship: Please divert your course 0.5 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.

CND reply: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

US Ship: This is the Captain of a US Navy Ship. I say again, divert your course.

CND reply: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course!


CND reply: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

Why Ideas Die

We like to believe that we are rational beings, only persuaded by the merits of an idea. Most of us think that good ideas spread because they are good and we are sure that bad ideas die because they are bad.

We are wrong.

Society, as a rule, does not want to change. We are invested in the beliefs and teaching we have spent decades learning. When someone shows up to change that belief, even accurately, we resist. We are usually more comfortable being wrong with the majority of our friends, than being right with a small group of strangers. Changing our stubborn minds is very difficult but it can happen. It takes two things for it to happen and they are a good idea, and the right person to spread that idea.

But if that great idea is attached to an arrogant person, it can die.


Alfred North Whitehead noted that, “the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

Plato taught Aristotle, who then tutored Alexander the Great. Plato built the first organized school in the west. It was named Academes. Plato is said to be the student of Socrates. It was said that by himself, because Socrates didn’t leave a written record, so Plato filled us in.

Plato absorbed and embraced the teachings and styles of his mentor Socrates in their short time together. It is said that he loved Socrates. There was at that time, a tribe of people who loved him. One poignant example is the story of the suicide of Socrates, written by Plato from first hand accounts of his colleagues, who were there.

In 399 B. C. Socrates was tried by a jury of 500 for refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state and for corrupting the youth. One of the youth he was accused of corrupting was Plato and 280 of the 500 Athenian jurors found him guilty.

They sentenced him to death.

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He was taken to a jail where the execution would be performed and the executioner would be himself. In Athens it was customary that executions were performed by drinking a cup of hemlock, so the execution would actually be a suicide. The following is Platos description of the ordered suicide of Socrates.

When Crito heard, he signaled to the slave who was standing by. The boy went out, and returned after a few moments with the man who was to administer the poison which he brought ready mixed in a cup.

When Socrates saw him, he said, ‘Now, good sir, you understand these things. What must I do?’

‘Just drink it and walk around until your legs begin to feel heavy, then lie down. It will soon act.’ With that he offered Socrates the cup.

The latter took it quite cheerfully without a tremor, with no change of color or expression. He just gave the man his stolid look, and asked, ‘How say you, is it permissible to pledge this drink to anyone? May I?’

The answer came, ‘We allow reasonable time in which to drink it.’


‘I understand’, he said. ‘We can and must pray to the gods that our sojourn on earth will continue happy beyond the grave. This is my prayer, and may it come to pass.’ With these words, he stoically drank the potion, quite readily and cheerfully.

Up till this moment most of us were able with some decency to hold back our tears, but when we saw him drinking the poison to the last drop, we could restrain ourselves no longer. In spite of myself, the tears came in floods, so that I covered my face and wept – not for him, but at my own misfortune at losing such a man as my friend. Crito, even before me, rose and went out when he could check his tears no longer.

Apollodorus was already steadily weeping, and by drying his eyes, crying again and sobbing, he affected everyone present except for Socrates himself.

He said, ‘You are strange fellows; what is wrong with you? I sent the women away for this very purpose, to stop their creating such a scene. I have heard that one should die in silence. So please be quiet and keep control of yourselves.’ These words made us ashamed, and we stopped crying.

The End

Socrates walked around until he said that his legs were becoming heavy, when he lay on his back, as the attendant instructed. This fellow felt him, and then a moment later examined his feet and legs again. He asked him if he felt anything while squeezing a foot hard. Socrates said that he did not. He did the same to his calves and, going higher, showed us that he was becoming cold and stiff. Then he felt him a last time and said that when the poison reached the heart he would be gone.

As the chill sensation got to his waist, Socrates uncovered his head (he had put something over it) and said his last words: ‘Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Do pay it. Don’t forget.’

‘Of course’, said Crito. ‘Do you want to say anything else?’

‘There was no reply to this question, but after a while he gave a slight stir, and the attendant uncovered him and examined his eyes. Then Crito saw that he was dead, he closed his mouth and eyelids.

This was the end of our friend, the best, wisest and most upright man of any that I have ever known”

Building Blocks

Plato’s hero had been forced to commit suicide over the new ideas he introduced to the community. It was a world that was ruled, scientifically and religiously by the state. Therefore what the government believed was what the people were to believe, and at that time they both believed the smallest building blocks of science were earth, air, water and fire.

Empedocles proposed that the building blocks of the universe were earth, water, air and fire. This was not an assumption but a truth taught by the wisest influencers.

Enter the voice of change, Democritus.


Democritus did not believe that the smallest building blocks of matter were earth, wind, water and fire. He believed in something much smaller.

Our very cosmopolitan hero believed in atomos, the Greek word for “indivisible,” so he taught that matter was made of atomos and void. That the building blocks of matter were not earth, wind, water and fire was not accurate. Democritus explained that matter was made of even smaller particles that could not be divided. He also taught that his atomos lived in an aether of nothing or void. So the chair on which you sit is not only made of chair atomos, but also small bits of nothing in between.

This was a very hard pill for the thinkers in Athens to swallow. Not the least of which being Plato, who wrote the story of the suicide of his mentor. It was a suicided ordered by the state for teaching new ideas and put an abrupt end to an eight year relationship that would shape the rest of his life.

Just the idea of teaching that Socrates was wrong must have upset Plato. But there was something else about Democritus to which history eludes. A personality trait that, like in the case of Ivan the Terrible, became synonymous with the name Democritus.

The Mocker

Seneca explained that Democritus never appeared in public without showing his contempt for human folly. Amongst his own people, Democritus was known as “the mocker.” His standard reaction to any idea or teaching that he thought wrong was to laugh at the idea or the person with the idea. Consequently, his incessant laughing crept into most of the paintings and sculptures made of him.

But how did a brilliant man who, without the aid of any form of microscope explained atomic theory, allow himself to go down in history as “the mocker?”

The answer could be in a little psychological bias called the false consensus effect.

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False Consensus

The false consensus effect explains how we tend to overestimate how much other people are like us. We guess that because we like certain things, believe a certain way or understand something using certain logic, other people think the same way.

Most of us are all subject to the trappings of the false consensus effect. Have you ever recommended a restaurant to a friend, then, as an exclamation of how great it is said, “everyone loves it.

Or how about this? You are shocked when someone hasn’t seen your favorite movie. After a moment you scream, “who hasn’t seen Avatar?”

These are examples of the false consensus effect. We think everyone is like us because we don’t have time to research the actual numbers, so we don’t really know how many people have seen Avatar or who likes the restaurant. Our opinions are shaped by the information readily available to us, which is another heuristic.

The availability heuristic.

Who Dies More

January of 2017 CNBC listed the 10 most dangerous jobs in America as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Do you think you can guess what they are? Try to arrange the following occupations from least dangerous to most dangerous.

  1. Truck Driver
  2. Police Officer
  3. Landscaper
  4. Firefighter

Most of the people whom I offered this test to came up with something like this.

4. Landscaper

3. Firefighter

2. Truck Driver

1. Police Officer

People told me they assumed that I was tricking them, so they frequently put truck driver between Police Officer and Firefighter as a safeguard. But most of them told me they actually thought Police Officer and firefighter were numbers one and two. However neither guess is even close. In fact let me show you the full list of the ten most dangerous jobs in America.

  1. Loggers
  2. Fishing professionals
  3. Aircraft pilots and engineers
  4. Roofers
  5. Trash collectors
  6. Structural steel workers
  7. Truck drivers
  8. Farmers
  9. High-voltage power lineman
  10. Landscaper

Confused? Are you surprised that firefighter and police officer don’t even make the list, much less in the order you thought? This is because of the availability heuristic.


In the generation since 9/11 we have seen the image of hero police officers and firefighters on the news, on stickers, emblems and social media at a vigorous pace. These images are often accompanied by headstones, alters and words like never forget or gone but not forgotten. As a result we have been trained to believe that those two occupations are incredibly dangerous because of the highly publicized deaths of the brave men and women on that day.

In reality, those professions are much safer than the jobs that we watch people do every day. Almost every day in America we have planes over our heads or have our trash collected or see a driver operating a commercial vehicle of some type.

So why do we ignore those jobs even though we see them every day? Why is it so hard to put them ahead of police and firefighters on the list? Because those deaths don’t get publicized the way law enforcement and firefighter deaths do. We are constantly overrun with the message that police officers and firefighter are heroes doing dangerous work, which may be true. When one of them is killed in the line of duty it makes the news and we hear about it.

Off Our Radar

But when a farmer is killed by livestock we don’t hear about it. When there is construction slowing traffic on our commute home, we rarely look up to watch men hanging from poles with high-voltage power lines all around them. We just turn up the radio, cuss the truck driver in front of us and like a post on Facebook that says, “support police officers killed in the line of duty,” and so the availability heuristic grows.

This programming leads to the availability heuristic that police and firefighters have some of the most dangerous jobs. We don’t look up the numbers, we recall what the news or social media or our friends have told us. Most of us are absorbed in an envelope of relative sameness. We are heavily influenced by our surroundings much more than the truth, consequently we believe (wrongly) that most people are like us. So the false consensus effect is born.

False consensus leads to, at least close mindedness, at most arrogance.

Rick Barry

Rick Barry could be the best free-throw shooter ever to have lived. At 6’7” and 205 pounds he is an imposing figure. Even as he ages beyond his 70’s, he seems to carry the physical and mental agility of the aggressive athlete that he once was. Of the top 5 best free throw shooters from the NBA, only Barry has shot over 4000 free throws and he is the only one in the NBA Hall of Fame.

But he is not in the Hall of Fame strictly for great free-throws. He has also been regarded as one of the best players to have ever played the game. He was named to 12 All-Star teams in addition to his many other accolades. And one of the many secrets to his amazing success was, granny shots. The underhanded version of free-throws that most children start out using, but give up as soon as someone else is watching, was Rick’s secret weapon


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Granny Shots

Free throws are shot much more accurately if they are shot underhanded, rather than conventionally from a players forehead. Barry and science has proven this because of the way your arms hang naturally at your side and the even symmetrical pressure your hands put on the ball. Furthermore a players vision isn’t blocked at any point by the ball, and almost always the ball spins with a much better rotation.

Peter Brancazio, physics professor emeritus from Brooklyn College says, “Judging by mechanics alone, just about every foul shot should be a winner,” but only if a player shot underhanded. There is almost no doubt in the minds of most players and coaches that granny shots are better free throw shots. It’s purely physics.  

Yet for the last 50 years free throw averages have remained the same, most likely because the method of shooting them has as well. Like an albatross stuck in the tar-pit of mediocrity, free throws have gone virtually unchanged for a half century. Consequently, the average success rate has been right at 69 percent in the NCAA and about 75 percent for the NBA. Larry Wright, professor of statistics at Columbia, who studied the averages for the last 50 years said, “It’s unbelievable because there’s almost no difference. Fifty years. It’s mind-boggling.”

To put those numbers in perspective, Barry’s all-time NBA average is 89.98% in his 15 year career!

The Answer?

Even with those poor numbers looming over average players, and a proven solution to the problem available, it has been nearly impossible to get anyone in the NBA or the NCAA to shoot underhanded. Barry has worked with some of the biggest names in the NBA in an attempt to influence them to shoot underhanded. From Wilt Chamberlin to Shaq Barry has had the opportunity to use his influence, however the response to Barry’s advice has been a resounding no.

We are talking about one tiny change to players game that could score him, on average 7 more points per game. So is that a big deal? Let’s look at the average, final score of the 5 games between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2017 NBA finals. The average score of each team at the end of each game was:

Warriors 121.6  Cavs 114.8

That means that if the Cleveland Cavaliers had one player on their team who simply shot underhanded free throws, they may have won the championship rather than lost. If the whole team chose to shoot underhanded, it would have been no contest.

Plus A Raise

Whats more, Money Nation says the difference in pay when a team wins a championship can mean 30%-50% increase in pay and endorsements. Depending on the player, that can be an extra $200,000 to $12 million per year more! Just to shoot underhanded free-throws.

Yet, Rick Barry can’t convince one player in the NBA to do it. Basically Rick Barry is selling winning, million dollar lottery tickets for next to nothing and yet, no one is buying.

As you probably guessed, the message isn’t moving because of the messenger.

Allow me to share a few quotes with you about Rick Barry. Keep in mind these quotes come from some of the people closest to Rick, not his critics.


“His teammates and his opponents generally and thoroughly detested him.”

“Rick’s negativity came across to the viewers.”

“He was an extremely disliked individual. We’d be in a limousine together and people would pound on the windows trying to punch him in the face.”

“When you’ve got nothing nice to say, you don’t say anything at all,” after being asked why he doesn’t say much about Barry.

“Around the league they thought of him as the most arrogant guy ever.”

And for our purposes, perhaps the most poignant quote of all, “Rick lived in a narrow sphere of influence.”

Rick Barry is almost universally regarded as a complete jerk. Even in his autobiography Barry admitted that he punched a nun. In the same book, his mother called him greedy. Then his father wrote, “I have it on good authority that the other players jaw broke when he hit the ground, not when Rick punched him.

His Own Words

In the incredible podcast Malcolm Gladwell did with him, Rick Barry’s arrogance comes through. Keep in mind, during the entire show Rick only speaks for less than 6 minutes.

“Watch a game,” his cadence speeds up. “A guy shoots free throw and misses and everybody goes up and slaps his hand. What the, where the hell did that come from?” He’s angry now.

“I want to know how the guy is that started doing that.” The more he talks, the angrier he sounds, “and who was the genius that said, man that’s a great idea. Let’s go up and slap the guys hand and let’s go app and disturb the guys concentration when he’s supposed to be focusing on shooting his free throws and worry about having to slap the hands of his teammates!”

After that he makes a comment that seems to embody who he is. He says, “plus the fact you should go up and smack him on the head for missing the free throw, not smack him on the hand and say it’s okay, because it’s not okay. You just cost us a point!”

His Perspective

It’s not okay, you just cost us a point. Imagine you are a player in the NBA. Would you listen to someone who would, “smack you on the head,” because, “you just cost us a point?” If that person is one of many coaches on a team, maybe. However if he is an outsider, trying to get you to change something you have believed and worked on for decades, not a chance. Knowing you might get smacked int the head for costing us a point, you probably wouldn’t care to even engage this person.

Rick’s false consensus is that everyone thinks like he does about basketball. That winning is more important than relationships was a given in his life. And even though he has the secret to winning more games, he can’t build the relationships he needs to spread the message.

Relationships Matter

Democritus was really only one relationship away from spreading atomic theory. If Plato, the man who started the first organized school in the west, had been his colleague, he may have had a voice. But Democritus, like Rick Barry, was not in the business of making friends. Like Rick’s obsession with winning, Democritus lived to be right, and laugh at those who weren’t.

Plato did not embrace Democritus. He suggested Democritus books burned. And the society that ordered the destruction of Socrates happily destroyed the writings of “the mocker.” There is no written record left today of Democritus, only that which others wrote about him. In fact, when Aristotle came along after Democritus and studied the law that matter was made of earth, air, fire and wind he only found one problem. Empedocles had left out one element, aether.

For centuries atomic theory lay dormant next the the “truth” that matter was made of five elements. It wasn’t until 1803, when John Dalton put together his atomic theory a millennium after Democritus died that the truth came to light.

Democritus Was Wrong?

Finally, we named the atom after the atomos speculated upon by Democritus. Consequently we have perhaps the most arrogant footnote to the story. The word atomos in Greek is undivided, or unable to be divided. His theory was that matter was composed of fundamental, indivisible building blocks.

When we named what we now call the atom, we were referring to what Democritus described. Of course we know now that atoms can be divided.

DemocritusBut Democritus didn’t say that atoms are a cluster of protons, neutrons and electrons. He said that matter is made of fundamental, indivisible building blocks. Very frequently, in a show of arrogance, academics look over their glasses and down their nose at the same time saying, Democritus was wrong because the atom can be divided, ha ha ha.

But it was us who named the atom after atomos, not him.

While it may be wrong that atoms are named after the indivisible, who was actually wrong?

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SPEAKING         BLOG         CONSULTING         BOOKS   

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row global_parent=”1242″ admin_label=”Row”][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_image global_parent=”1242″ admin_label=”Image” src=”” show_in_lightbox=”off” url_new_window=”off” use_overlay=”off” animation=”fade_in” sticky=”off” align=”right” force_fullwidth=”on” always_center_on_mobile=”on” use_border_color=”on” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”inset”] 

[/et_pb_image][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_code global_parent=”1242″ admin_label=”Code”]<!– Begin MailChimp Signup Form –><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><div id=”optin”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><form action=”” method=”post” id=”mc-embedded-subscribe-form” name=”mc-embedded-subscribe-form” class=”validate” target=”_blank” novalidate><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div id=”mc_embed_signup_scroll”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <h2>This article is an excerpt from my book SWAY</h2><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><div class=””><span class=”asterisk”></span>Get three FREE sections from SWAY and discover the link between autism and influence</div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><div class=”mc-field-group”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><label for=”mce-EMAIL”>Email<span class=”asterisk”></span></label><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <input type=”email” value=”” name=”EMAIL” class=”required email” id=”mce-EMAIL”onfocus=”if(this.value==this.defaultValue)this.value=”;” onblur=”if(this.value==”)this.value=this.defaultValue;”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><div class=”mc-field-group”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><label for=”mce-FNAME”>Name<span class=”asterisk”></span></label><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <input type=”text” value=”” name=”FNAME” class=”Name” id=”mce-FNAME”onfocus=”if(this.value==this.defaultValue)this.value=”;” onblur=”if(this.value==”)this.value=this.defaultValue;”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div id=”mce-responses” class=”clear”><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div class=”response” id=”mce-error-response” style=”display:none”></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div class=”response” id=”mce-success-response” style=”display:none”></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> </div> <!– real people should not fill this in and expect good things – do not remove this or risk form bot signups–><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div style=”position: absolute; left: -5000px;” aria-hidden=”true”><input type=”text” name=”b_9639288bdd98660e10dbd0307_391038d05a” tabindex=”-1″ value=””></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> <div class=”clear”><input type=”submit” value=”Subscribe” name=”subscribe” id=”mc-embedded-subscribe” class=”button”></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –> </div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –></form><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –></div><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><!– [et_pb_line_break_holder] –><!–End mc_embed_signup–>[/et_pb_code][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row global_parent=”1242″ admin_label=”Row”][et_pb_column type=”1_2″][et_pb_text global_parent=”1242″ admin_label=”Text” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”center” text_font_size=”12″ use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” text_line_height=”1em”]

Copyright 2018. John

Snowflake Az. 85937

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