Monday, 30 December 2013

Lesson 2.3

Dear Reader,

Another corollary of Lesson 1.1 is that, because humans are fallible, they will never predict all the consequences of their actions. As such, there will always be unintended consequences. Always. (Lesson 2.3).

One of my favourite blogs that looks at (among other things) the impact of unintended consequences, Freakonomics, has a multitude of examples of these, from how legalising abortion seems to have contributed to reducing the crime rate, to how the name given to a baby is a better predictor than you might think of its future success. And the best part is, they've backed it up with empirical data analysis.

They have an interesting example of the potential impact that technology will have on real estate values.

xx - S

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Lesson 1.1.1

Dear Reader,

Just in case you were thinking that this blog is going to be a collection of saccharine true-isms - well, to be honest there is a bit of a risk of that, but I am trying to minimize the schmaltz.

Ultimately, the intent for this blog is for it to be filled with a collection of interesting factoids, snippets of humour and well intentioned (albeit occasionally rambling) anecdotes that help bring the lessons home.

Therefore, an important corollary of Lesson 1.1 is that just because you're a good driver doesn't mean everyone else on the road is (Lesson 1.1.1). I learned this lesson the hard way a year ago (almost to the day) when a 4 wheel drive decided he was bored with the conventions of Australian road rules, and decided to drive in the right hand lane for a while.

Unfortunately, I was already in it at the time. And although my car started off as a compact car, it ended up rather more compact afterwards.

Luckily for me, the car had good brakes (although the brake fluid ended up in a puddle on the road, along with the coolant and battery acid), airbags (that deployed as they should have), and insurance (that paid out in full as I was found 100% not at fault). I walked away (admittedly from a concertina'd car) with only bruising and a fractured finger from the airbag going off as I was honking the horn.

So, how do I apply this lesson now?

  1. Always, always, ALWAYS wear a seatbelt!
  2. Buying a car with the highest possible safety rating (in Australia, that's ANCAP 5 star). It doesn't have to be new, it doesn't have to be fancy, it doesn't have to be expensive - just as safe as possible. Preferably with curtain airbags. (Curtain airbags reduce the likelihood of serious/fatal head and neck injuries by ~60%. When you think about how much money, time and effort has been invested in your head, it's a relatively very small additional cost for hell of a lot of risk minimization)
  3. I never drive anywhere without a camera and (charged) mobile phone.
  4. I never drive anywhere without a bottle of water. After an accident, your adrenaline will go through the roof and inhibit the normal cognitive processes - I forgot how to open my car door and I still can't actually remember everything that happened during the accident. Drinking a bottle of water is one way to help overcome the adrenaline surge as quickly as possible.
  5. I never drive anywhere without insurance (new for old replacement) and roadside assistance. Getting a towtruck is more difficult than you'd think in the middle of the holidays and you do not want to have to pay for a new car when you're recovering from an accident.
  6. Make sure you take a photograph of the accident (including where your car is on the road), showing 
  • which side of the road it's on (if you can get the single or double while lines, that's ideal!);
  • a photo of the other party's car (including numberplate);
  • the other party's face; and 
  • the other party's ID (the driver gave me a misspelled name that actually belonged to his boss).
     7.   Again. Just to be clear. ALWAYS WEARING A LAP SASH, UNTWISTED SEATBELT.

xx - S

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Lesson 2.0

Dear Reader,

I'm sure you're familiar with Murphy's Law - if anything can go wrong, it will (Lesson 2.0). For better or worse, a corollary of Lesson 1.1 is that everything that has been built in the world has (OK, more often than not in a roundabout kind of way) been designed and built by humans - who are fallible. And the stuff that wasn't, hasn't been designed at all, and therefore can be expected to not behave exactly as you'd like it.

Now, much as I'd like to think that shouting at the things/systems that aren't working as well as they should be will make them work better, past experience suggests that this isn't really a particularly effective solution (although "percussive maintenance" - that is to say, hitting (or kicking, if you're really irritated) things until they work - has actually been known to have a positive result in certain situations; although it tends to break things in others).

As such, it's worth expecting things to go wrong, and to have at least one (independent) backup in place, and planning a way of fixing any problems that arise from the offset.

So, the next time my cat walks across my laptop and manages to invert the screen, set my default language as Russian and turn on Filter Keys on my keyboard (which happens more frequently than you'd think), I'll try and remind myself that neither my cat nor my computer is fluent in English, particularly not when I'm shouting at it.

Instead, I'll use the combination of other useful (although still ultimately fallible) inventions of my smartphone, google, doors (to keep the sodding cats out) and a glass of good wine to fix the problems.

xx - S

Lesson Learned 1.0 and 1.1

Dear Reader,

The most important (and hardest) lesson I've ever had to learn is to treat other people the way I'd like to be treated if I were in their shoes (Lesson Learned 1.0). To be perfectly honest, dear reader, I still haven't quite got this one down pat yet.

Ironically, this is the lesson that, throughout history, we have been trying (without much success) to bang into one another's thick skulls. It's the Golden Rule. Jesus' New Commandment. And yet... somehow, we never quite manage to understand all the various permutations of this lesson.

It still applies when I'm having a bad day.

It still applies when they're having a bad day and are taking it out on me.

It still applies to people I don't particularly like or I think are particularly stupid.

It always applies.  Although sometimes, I really wish it didn't.

It's easy to treat people like us the way that we'd like to be treated, because we can put ourselves very easily in their shoes. But for people who are different than us - a different race, a different socioeconomic group, with different political views - well, their shoes don't necessarily fit. They pinch at funny spots, they give you blisters, they gape and leak and let in sand.

So we don't necessarily always want to try. Why would anyone in their right mind put themselves in the shoes of the overweight old man at work (whose children are all grown up and moved away, and whose wife is sick) who just seems to want to block your project with asinine objections? Who'd want to put themselves in the shoes of the bitchy girl behind the counter of your local cafe (who's just been yelled at for ten solid minutes by a less friendly customer) who rolls her eyes at you when you order a skinny latte? 

Empathising's time consuming and difficult. It's exhausting. It involves a lot of listening. And the more different someone is from us, the harder it is to empathise. So sometimes, we don't bother trying.

And this brings me on to the other lesson that I've found very, very difficult to learn - but is really a subsection of Lesson Learned 1.0 - everyone's human. And humans are fallible (Lesson Learned 1.1).

I've learned both these lessons more times than I'd care to admit, in more ways than I'd care to admit. Yet life keeps finding a way of trying to shove these lessons down my throat - and each time it happens, it gets more painful. 

Life's a real pain like that. 

So how do I keep learning this lesson? I try and make myself stop and think about why people act the way they do. It doesn't always stop me from wanting to slap their silly faces, and I don't always manage to do it in the heat of the moment. But I'm human, and therefore fallible, and so I try and forgive myself and do better next time. Try, of course, is the operative word.

xx - S

The Point of Learning Other People's Lessons

Dear Reader,

I've been lucky enough to learn an awful lot of lessons in a relatively short amount of time.

And, most of the time, I wasn't the poor unfortunate who had to learn the lessons the hard way - I was taught these lessons by parents, relatives, neighbours, and friends. The stories they told me about how they learned the hard way have stuck.

So, dear reader, I invite you to learn from my failures, and from the failures of the people I care about. In order to ensure they still care about me at the end of all this, I won't name any names or divulge anything too specific - but this should (hopefully) still allow me to share most of the salient information with you - and hopefully help you avoid the hardest lessons to learn.

xx - S

P.S. As you can probably tell, dear reader, one of the lessons I obstinately refuse to learn is to not directly refer to the reader.