Tuesday, July 02, 2013


As Nassim Nicholas Taleb pointed out, uncertainty is uncertainty. It's a truism that is forgotten often in the study of mathematical probability, and has particularly massive consequences in finance (where Gaussian distribution doesn't apply, but I digress) when 99% certain gets equivocated to 'certainty'.

Thus when the unlikely but crucial occurs, it can be quite stressful. Most of the stress in my life is interpersonal, and probably most of the stress in most peoples lives are too. The billionaire and the pauper have in common a fear of dying alone for example.

I'm all for risk taking, and informed risk taking, but interpersonal I think the difference between 'assuming' and 'knowing' often results in a bunch of unnecessary guesswork, and unnecessary risk taking, and unnecessary stress.

My very first post was about the Johari window, the concept that inspired me to start this blog. And a lot of what drives much of my behaviour is trying to take the guesswork out of me, for others.

Here's my experience though, because sharing stuff you keep to yourself can be quite terrifying, I have been constantly surprised (and relieved) that much of what I thought I was keeping secret, people assumed about me anyway.

Any dark secret I have confessed, has resulted thus far in zero change in the way my friends treat me. As it turns out, the exercise I've maintaining a facade was actually in most part an exercise in maintaining a blind spot. I was blind to how ineffective my deception was. Subsequently, most acts of deception are really just self deception.

But that's off topic, the topic is the stress of guesswork, there's an infinitely vast gulf between knowing something and assuming something.

Consider sexual orientation, we unfortunately have not progressed far enough through history that the decision to 'come out' is still one that needs to be made and individuals have to give great practical consideration. (fortunately though we have progressed enough that the variance in coming out experiences has much more positive skew)

I assume you are familiar with the term 'Gadar'. It is a fine example of the knowing/assuming dichotomy. The individual knows they are gay, their friends and family have assumed they are. The reactions may vary, from an unspoken tacit solidarity, to jocular naive ribbing, to covert attempts to repress, to physical harm.

The first thing to point out is, the assumption could be wrong. But for the purposes of the analogy, if you move the knowledge of your sexuality into the domain, the reactions change in nature fundamentally. unspoken tacit solidarity becomes actual spoken support, jocular naive ribbing has to stop, attempts to repress are no longer covert but overt, and physical harm can no longer be blamed on 'I just don't like your haircut' but become a hate crime.

My point being, is that so long as you are operating on assumptions, you have to allow for the possibility that you could be wrong. You have to hedge your bets, or alternatively be prepared to lose.

Consider a much more commonplace example - asking somebody out. There's two ways people bring themselves to make that call (broadly speaking) one is to try and get as certain as possible that they reciprocate those feelings, the other is to not particulary care about the averse consequences of being wrong.

This I would project, carries on to the proposal, in which case the dichotomy would be more or less stressful, if you know your partner wants you to propose you can go all out and make a real evening of it, alternatively if you have to make an assumption, then you are facing a decision that will either cement your relationship (in theory) or prematurely terminate it.

Consider the dilemma we all subsequently face, not just in dating but in all relationships. The actions people can take differ between what you will admit and what you won't. And more often than not in my personal experience, what I won't admit is in my Johari blindspot, not my facade.

Keeping the people that actually care about you guessing, can be a survival skill in certain cases. People can react poorly to knowledge, particularly when it conflicts with their ignorance. But a lot of times it's just undue stress.

The gap between getting the wooden spoon (last place if you don't follow your sports) can be less stressful than the gap between being a contender and being champion. The irony is that the better/more acurate our assumptions are about people, the more stressful/frustrating the guesswork. How to act around a person with an addiction but won't admit it? How to encourage a depressive that identifies only as a poet? How to support your queer friend who is trying to 'pass'?

The secrets we keep may fool nobody, but they can still protect us from risks. The thing about risk though, is that somebody has to take them. In this case you just lump the risk on the people who have to do the guesswork.

There are of course, two catches. The first is for people who get indignant/offended by the idea that people would dare make assumptions about their sexual orientation, state of mental health, substance habits or even their hygene, you're a fool. We are social animals, everybody operates in our society largely on the assumptions they make about every single person they come across' character. This is the famous 'first impression' that may or may not last, and in both directions, you will be no exception.

The second catch is that whatever you put out their, lies or truth, doesn't get accepted at face value. You are getting bullied because your a 'fag' and you protest that you aren't. And it's true. It's no guarantee that the truth will be accepted any more than a lie, the bullying may not stop. That's the risk you have to take.

Some people when confronted with new evidence, reject the old hypothesis, some people when confronted with new evidence reject the evidence. What everyone will do, will test what you say against what you do. The truth in other words requires verification. And this is the crux of the catch, you may believe it to be true, and all it is is self deception.

That's why getting as much information into the arena, that is known and accepted by all parties is so valuable, it's a way of eradicating self-deception. And trust me when I quote 'It's a poor idea to lie to oneself.'

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