Re: Liars, damned liars, and statisticians.

Chris Olds (
Tue, 18 Aug 1998 14:45:04 -0700

Summary: Adam's growing up, and he's still dealing with it.

I Find Karma wrote:
<politics snipped>

> So my point is, I gazed deeply into my own mortality and my own patterns
> for living and loving and learning, and I finally realized that I did
> not care about everyone else being a lot smarter and clearer on where
> they are in life.

Great! In my experience, they ("everyone") are neither smarter nor
clearer on where they are in life. In fact, as nearly as I can discern,
most people are struggling to keep their heads above water. It may be
money, family, work, or even a total lack of a social life, but everyone
I know has some area that they are stupid and/or blind about.

> What I found that frightened me is that I suddenly felt very vulnerable,
> and very stupid, and that my best laid plans were not going to be
> feasible. It was time to reassess my hopes and my dreams and my plans
> and my abilities, and come up with a realistic plan for my own life.

Wow. I sure hope you don't follow through with this. The benefit of
recognizing that vulnerability is to accept it, and then act as if it
wasn't there. I'm not talking about denial, I'm talking about courage.
If your best-laid plans are not going to be feasible, then decide if
that is what you want to do or not. Repeat until you get a best-laid
plan that you can commit to, acknowledge that it may not turn out as you
expect, and Get On With It! Realistic plans are for people without
ambition. Deal with reality as the price of getting to do what is
important, but don't let what is realistic get in the way of doing what
you really care about.

If I had limited myself to realistic plans, I sure wouldn't have been
programing for 15 years, and I would be lucky to make 1/3 of what I make

> My main problem was, I think, that I let people believe about me
> whatever they wanted to believe. In any given one-to-one relationship,
> then, I could play a role customized to that particular person,
> depending on what their wants and needs were, and depending on what my
> own wants and needs were.

That's called "social skills". If you're really good at it, you can be
a salesman! Furthermore, you can't really control what other people
believe about you; the most you can do is lead them in a general

> If I needed you to think I "know my shit," in order for me to help myself
> (or, conversely, for me to help you), then I would keep you believing it
> whether or not it actually was the case.

Is there something wrong with this? I don't see the part where widows
and orphans are sacrificed because I think you know your shit on some
subject. I think that if you can keep me thinking that you know you
stuff either long enough for me to help you, or long enough for you to
help me, then you probably DO know enough to matter!

> What is FoRK but a place in
> which we can all chime in "knowing our shit" whenever we have something
> to contribute that will make us look better in the eyes of our peers?

Hey, some of us (like me) chime in whether it makes us look better or
not! I don't even know most of the people this will get sent to. I
like the FoRKs I have met; there are some more that I'd definitely like
to meet, and there are others that scare me (-; I wouldn't be surprised
if I'm in that category for some people).

> In FoRK as in real life, it is a game where the goal is to make people
> know that you are not a person with whom to mess, and that you are often
> a person to consult in times of crisis or information deficit.

Yes, but in real life, I play for money. I play on FoRK for fun.

<categories snipped - any given taxonomy is wrong anyway, depending on
your point of view>

> And given an infinite amount of resources (time, access to information,
> etc), I am sure that any C could eventually become an A. But at what
> point does one do a reassessment and cut one's losses if necessary?

My answer is, "As soon as you notice you're having losses." Nothing is
worth doing if it doesn't give you joy. I was going to make 'being able
to care for those you love' an exception, but if that is the result,
then it doesn't matter how crappy the work is (joy is not the same as
being happy).

I make my living acting like I know what I'm talking about. Some of the
time, I do. Some of the time, I make it up as I go along. Even when I
tell people that I just made up the answer I gave, they often go away
happy (and helped!). I try as hard as I can to really know the answers
to the questions I'm going to get next week. Does that make me an A, B,
or C? I don't care. It doesn't matter. I make a positive difference
to the people I work with (which makes me joyful), and I have fun (I'm
happy) doing it.

> For example -- hypothetically, mind you -- if I know the work I did on a
> particular project is not as perfect as I had expected it to be, do I
> have a responsibility to tell people that?

That depends on whether or not your expectations are part of the
specification. If there are deficiencies that make the work unusable or
unsuitable, then there is a responsibility to tell about that. If the
problem is a mismatch between your ideal and the results, then I would
say you should tell someone that asked, but not worry about it
otherwise. When that happens to me (and I can't fix things to meet my
expectations), I try to figure out what I can do to avoid having that
problem in the future and move on.

> Or do I give them the
> impression it is spectacular work, knowing full well that 97% of the
> people won't bother to check (and the other 3% who actually do bother to
> check won't tell me to my face what's wrong with it... :)?

These are not the same thing! "Do I tell people that this apple is not
as red as I had hoped, or do I give them the impression that it's a
fleshy plant ovary of a woody relative of the rose family?" You may be
completely dissatisfied with the work, and it may be IN FACT
spectacular! Conversely, you could be completely satisfied, and it
could be crap (unlikely, I think, but possible).

> My epiphany -- my "loss of virginity" -- was that I would rather tell
> people when I know my work is not good, no matter what the consequences
> of that.

Who let you be the judge? If the work is not good and you want that to
be known, show it to people you respect for their insight and honesty,
and let them say "Hey, that sucks!" If you let the work out into the
wild world, you give up the right to decide whether of not it is any
good. If you really think it is no good, then don't add it to the

> They may think me stupid, they may think me a fool, but at
> least they know I know what I do not know.

People that matter will already have an opinion of you. Much of the
time, if they want to know what you do not know, they will ask. The
rest of the time, try to keep it down to the occasional disclaimer (I
use "Of course, I just made that up, so it could be completely wrong" or
"Assuming I know what I'm talking about" as parting lines).

> As for me... will I stop lying completely? Doubtful. I doubt anyone is
> completely devoid of dishonesty in some aspect of their lives. But I
> feel like I've gotten a grip on The Big Lie (I believe most people have
> at least one big lie in their lives that they refuse to address, and
> this big lie may be apparent to no one except the owner), and I feel
> like I can make some true progress.

Making statements you believe in with an apparent level of confidence
(authority) you don't feel is (IMNSHO) not a lie. If you are saying
things you know to be false, by all means, please stop. Self-confidence
is not lying! Telling people things that you just made up is not lying
- it's called sharing your ideas! If you have a Big Lie (and many of us
do; not everyone has as much courage as some FoRKs), then you first need
to deal with it in a way that does not allow it to hurt anyone else, and
then deal with so it stops hurting you. Not knowing everything is not a
failure. Not doing a perfect job is not a failure. Not doing the best
you can on whatever you do is a failure. Perfection is not only not
required, it's not possible.

Is all of what I wrote "Sound a fury, signifying nothing"? I hope not,
but I don't get a vote.