Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Statements that are wide off the mark

During sales training in Wipro Infotech, we were taught that it is better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver. This a good rule to be followed in all circumstances. But it is a custom more honour'd in the breach than the observance.Many people seem compelled to make tall claims that many listeners take as more than empty verbiage.

This is especially common with quacks. I came across a concept called Hype Cycle. Many people seem to go through the the first 3 stages of the cycle but seem unable to make the transition to the 4th stage. Come the next quack and the same cycle is repeated. It is natural for desperate people to feel hopeful after hearing of various miracle tales. Quacks know this. I remember reading that how you speak is more important than what you say and quacks take full advantage of this idea. You can make any statement you like and many people will believe it if you say it confidently enough. As Carl Sagan said in The Demon-Haunted World:
Tellingly, pseudoscience and superstition tend to recognize no constraints in Nature. Instead, "all things are possible." They promise a limitless production budget, however often their adherents have been disappointed and betrayed.
Sometime back, Jaya was asked to talk to a guy who it was claimed could cure any paralysed person in 6 months. To observe social niceties, Jaya called up the person. He was horrified to hear that I had been paralysed for 13 years. He said that I should be brought immediately to him and he would cure me in 6 months. Jaya asked him if he had treated any patient who had suffered a brain stem stroke. He replied that he had treated plenty of them. Jaya made some polite noises and hung up. The incident reminded me of a story that Feynman related in this speech:
One time I sat down in a bath where there was a beautiful girl sitting with a guy who didn't seem to know her. Right away I began thinking, "Gee! How am I gonna get started talking to this beautiful nude babe?" I'm trying to figure out what to say, when the guy says to her, I'm, uh, studying massage. Could I practice on you?" "Sure," she says. They get out of the bath and she lies down on a massage table nearby. I think to myself, "What a nifty line! I can never think of anything like that!" He starts to rub her big toe. "I think I feel it, "he says. "I feel a kind of dent--is that the pituitary?" I blurt out, "You're a helluva long way from the pituitary, man!" 
They looked at me, horrified--I had blown my cover--and said, "It's reflexology!" I quickly closed my eyes and appeared to be meditating. That's just an example of the kind of things that overwhelm me. 
Many people make statements that don't square with reality. People who care deeply about a particular situation or outcome insist vehemently that they don't give a damn about it. The most argumentative types will say that it is better to keep quiet rather than get into unnecessary arguments. People who boast a lot and seem to often behave arrogantly keep saying that it is important to be humble. (Talking of boasting, this is awesome. And what about this?) Shakespeare was aware of this tendency: 'To thine own self be true' and 'Brevity is the soul of wit' were said by a character ('that Polonius guy') who was a scheming windbag.

Very privileged people keep cribbing about their troubles. They don't seem to realise that luck has played a significant role in ensuring their success. I keep hearing about talent and hard work but never about luck ('god's grace' is the place-holder term I hear). In her convocation address to Harvard University, J.K.Rowling says that humans alone among all species are capable of imagining themselves in others' shoes but some don't seem capable of it.This leads to bizarre situations. For eg., if the watchman asks for a 200 rupee raise, there will be a 1 hour discussion about it but the same people will spend the same amount casually on ice-creams during an evening walk. (I don't know what to make of this disturbing story. Those people seem to be training to become Snakes in Suits - it is a book that I have not read but I love the title, although I suppose it is being uncharitable to snakes.)

No comments:

Post a Comment