Sometimes people will say some wacky things like, 'All our actions are guided by the spirits of our ancestors.' (Judging by the contents of the conversation, it was not a metaphorical statement.) They will then say, 'What do youngsters know about such things these days'?
When there is a discussion about the relative military strengths of India and Pakistan, emotion is likely to rule the roost and it is not wise to get into an argument. Once I was told that there was a report in some magazine that India had the resources to destroy the whole of Pakistan while Pakistan had the resources to destroy 'only' half of India so in the event of a full fledged conflict India's victory was assured. If I had thought that I just had to say, 'It would be a Pyrrhic victory', and everyone would break out in applause, I might have given it a shot but I knew that it won't be so easy. It is curious that regular folks who have never held a weapon in their lives are fascinated by terrible weapons that cause immense destruction somewhere far away and produce spectacular firework displays on T.V.
Apparently,Daniel Bernoulli thought of the equation that would have predicted my preference for keeping quiet, as per this TED talk by Dan Gilbert. According to Bernoulli's equation, the Expected value, V of an action is given by:
V = (odds of success) x (value of success)
The odds of my being able to convince anybody was very low. It is very difficult to change deeply held beliefs. People tend to tune out disconfirming views. (According to Carol Travis, all of us have a tendency to rationalise our beliefs. I remember reading that we always have a goodly portion of that which we condemn. She also says that the best predictor of memory is one’s current beliefs.) The value that I attach to the success would also be very low. It would take me a very long time to say anything substantial and nobody, least of all me, has the patience to wait that long. It will also waste Jaya's time. I realised long ago that the quickest way to get back to reading about more interesting things was to remain silent.
Thus my expected value for wading into these debates is close to zero and my best option is to keep quiet. (Perhaps it would have been beneficial if I had thought along these lines before my stroke also.) At most times, I try to dictate short sentences omitting many common words, hoping Jaya will guess them. My verbosity is confined to the blog, much to your misfortune!
I am the perfect victim to whom various mythological tales can be told - I will listen quietly with a smile and there was no danger of my walking off in a huff. I had a better appreciation of why Bertie Wooster used to be underwhelmed when Madeline Basset used to tell him that "the stars are God's daisy chain", or that "every time a fairy blows its wee nose a baby is born". Once I was listening to such chatting for over an hour, muttering 'holy shit' a few times because I wanted to watch a cricket match. When I finally managed to get the T.V. switched on, the match had just started - it had been delayed due to rain!
Another situation when it is best for me to remain silent (which I have written about earlier also) is when people talk about business, finance, marketing, etc. I suppose if you are an MBA you cannot escape these things. When a visitor sees me reading a book, he might guess that it is about International Business. If they are told that I sometimes watch T.V., they might assume that I am glued to the business channels. I am reliably informed that my favorite newspaper is The Economic Times. I have not seen it for over a decade. In fact, I rarely read any newspapers these days. I will sometimes be asked for stock tips. If I was asked about the axolotl, I might have been motivated to dictate a few words but about stock tips, the best I can do is say,'I don't know'.
Sometimes a new visitor will come who had never seen me before. He will assume that I am in the depths of depression and will tell me, 'My heart tells me that you will get alright very soon!' I will blink and smile. There is nothing much else that I can do. They will feel encouraged and tell everyone else, 'My heart tells me that he will get alright very soon!' Everyone will nod politely. There is nothing much else that they can do. There will then be 'My friend had...' or 'I heard of a doctor who...' I may be a beneficiary of the identifiable victim bias but it also means that I receive many suggestions of rituals and 'cures' (it has reduced now) from good people who feel compelled to help me in some way.