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Post No.: 0525wisdom


Furrywisepuppy says:


A lot of us think that our words of wisdom are always correct – but our words of wisdom frequently contradict each other and we’ll pick out the apparently correct words depending on what ‘wisdom’ is more apt given the benefit of hindsight! This gives one the impression that one is never wrong and that things were always ‘obvious’ because one cannot be wrong if one relies on hindsight and/or when all bases are covered!


There are countless examples. People say ‘strike while the iron’s hot’, ‘time is money’ or ‘you snooze, you lose’ whilst also saying ‘good things happen to those who wait’, ‘more haste, less speed’ or ‘patience is a virtue’! So if someone takes the time to plan then they could be criticised for wasting time and not getting stuck right in, and if the plan goes wrong, the ‘hindsight wisdom’ will come out as ‘man plans and God laughs’. But if they just jump straight in without a plan then they could be criticised for not taking a moment to think things through, and if things consequently go wrong, the ‘hindsight wisdom’ will alternatively come out as ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’. Similarly, people want a quick and decisive decision but lament it if it turns out to be an ill-thought-out one. (In tech circles, ‘move fast and break things’ has undeniably been replaced by ‘move fast with stable infrastructure’ though!)


If you’re thinking of quitting something then is the smart wisdom ‘if you fail then try and try again’ or ‘never give up’? Or is the smart wisdom if you’re thinking of carrying on ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ or one should ‘learn to let go’? So if someone doesn’t give up then they’ll be considered stubborn but if they do give up then they’ll be considered a quitter! Likewise, if someone chooses to fight then they’ll be criticised for not avoiding conflict wherever possible but if they choose not to fight then they’ll be branded as a coward.


People say ‘the bigger the better’ whilst also saying ‘good things come in small packages’. There’s ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ yet ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. ‘God is in the detail’ and ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’ but simultaneously ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ and you’ll be criticised if ‘you can’t see the wood for the trees’. Woof!


We should ‘keep calm and carry on’ yet ‘freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might’, which together suggests we should somehow stay calm yet concurrently give something everything we’ve got! Well should we be stoic and effectively pretend nothing’s wrong by carrying on as before or should we fight an injustice that needs changing or correcting?


You should ‘just be yourself’, ‘be authentic to your true feelings’ and ‘do what your heart tells you’ – but don’t do that because what you’re thinking of doing is stupid, adults must behave like adults and you should ‘do what your head tells you’! We should apparently just do what something says, ‘follow the script/recipe’ and ‘rules are there for a reason’ yet be creative and flexible, ‘do what we want’ and ‘rules are made to be broken’.


There are ostensibly ‘no limits’ yet ‘don’t fly too close to the sun’. If someone tried something new and innovative then they might be criticised for not going with the tried-and-tested solutions but if they went for the standard solutions then they might be criticised for being boring and conservative. ‘Focus on your strengths’ – however, your weaknesses will remain weak if you neglect them (e.g. if you keep avoiding maths or physical exercise because you don’t like doing them) and we’re often ‘only as strong as our weakest link’.


We should ‘stand together’, ‘there’s no I in team’ and ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ yet we should ‘stand apart from the crowd’, ‘make a name for oneself’ and ‘don’t follow the herd’. Strikers need to be selfish but they also need to pass the ball to someone who has a better chance of scoring. From a pundit’s view, it only becomes clearly ‘obvious’ what the player should’ve done if they miss!


‘Honesty is the best policy’ and it’s ‘better out than in’ yet learn to ‘bite your lip’ and ‘if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all’. We should always ‘be realistic’ yet simultaneously ‘be positive’. We should ‘say yes to everything’ but ‘don’t be afraid to say no’ – the former sounds upbeat and motivating but of course there are some things we should definitely reject! And so on…


…In other words, we mostly seem to possess the perception of always having known at least somewhere deep inside of us the right intuitions after the fact or event because we’ve subconsciously covered all or multiple bases or possible answers – hence we can always say, “I knew it!”, “I said that!” or, “I knew I should’ve done that!” Somewhere deep inside of us, we’ve got all the right answers because we’ve even got totally contradicting ones hence we logically cannot go wrong. So, with the help of confirmation bias, we can always seem to pull out the apposite snippet of wisdom or ‘wisdom’ afterwards with our hindsight bias.


If we’ve got to publicly declare our answers or predictions before the correct answer or end result is revealed, we can still play this ‘I knew it all along!’ card. However, if after it was confirmed that your chosen answer was incorrect yet you still claim you ‘knew it was wrong all along and knew the correct answer was the other answer’ then you’ll have either behaved moronically for picking the wrong answer on purpose, or you’re a liar and didn’t actually ‘know it’ with fluffy foresight at all(!) It’d also be extra damning for you to claim that you knew something yet didn’t do something about it (e.g. you let a crime continue even though you apparently ‘knew’ it was a crime!) What we ‘know now’ isn’t necessarily the same thing as what we ‘knew before’ we were given the correct answer. ‘Guessing’ isn’t the same as ‘knowing’ either.


You might get a former President who liked to constantly give contradicting statements so that whatever manifested, he could point to a video clip where he was correct all along, when really he was utterly clueless. People in general can do this to avoid cognitive dissonance – they believe they’re not fools and don’t want to do anything to jeopardise this, arrogant, self-concept. This strategy protects their fragile self-esteem. Hedging their bets improves their chances of getting the right answer when they don’t really know the right answer and are too insecure about their own intelligence to simply admit that. “I don’t know” is frequently the wisest, most informed and best answer one can give to certain questions such as predictions.


Most of us like to think that ‘deep inside of us somewhere’ we instinctively know friend or foe, right or wrong and what to do, when we only know for sure once the answer is revealed. And to help uphold that illusion to ourselves, we seldom ever say, “I’m glad I didn’t trust my intuitions” whenever our intuitions are wrong; leading to the biased impression to ourselves that we’re far more often right than wrong. Many of us erroneously trust our perceptions or intuitions over facts, evidence, data or statistics, and are surprised or dismissive when our perceptions or intuitions are proven wrong. We often think nothing gets by us, but we are not aware of all – or any – of the things that have passed us by, because they have logically passed us by.


Contradictory advice can appear because we massively oversimplify things, such as ‘spend as little as possible’ yet ‘go big’ – we should perhaps spend little when testing out what works, but once we’ve figured that out then we should go big with it? They’re not universal truisms but are presented or implied as if they are. That’s the problem with most quotes of wisdom that are routinely posted on social media – they present oversimplistic statements, and often vaguely without explaining their contexts either. Sometimes we should go one way and sometimes we should go the other way – thus we should elaborate to everyone beforehand which way and precisely where and when to be useful.


It’s therefore true that some of these pieces of wisdom depend on the context. Sometimes it’s about balancing risk and reward, sometimes they’re actually mutually compatible after all, and sometimes it’s just about our own perspectives (e.g. is someone being ‘savvy and shrewd’ or ‘cunning and calculating’?) But they’re also certainly oversimplistic advice and it’s mostly about applying words of ‘wisdom’ after we’ve witnessed the outcome. Everyone can appear clever by selecting from this large set of contradicting nuggets of wisdom after we’ve all seen the result, and make it sound like we should’ve always known it all along. But we don’t live with having the benefit of hindsight until it’s too late.


The dark mental health side of this is that we can end up ruminating on what we ‘should’ve done’ with feelings of regret or guilt because we believe we ‘should’ve known’ something at the time when we couldn’t reasonably have.


We all know what the lottery numbers are… after they’ve come out(!) Facts and ideas are far more likely to appear like they were ‘obvious’ after they’ve materialised – including thinking that many patents shouldn’t have been granted/issued (e.g. for touchscreen multi-touching and swiping). But did you think of these ideas first?


Criticising others is far easier than taking on the responsibility to try to do something oneself too. It’s easy to criticise someone but not have a better and workable idea oneself. Armchair critics often wait to see what other people do and if these other people fail, they’ll preach the appropriate piece of ‘hindsight wisdom’ with a smug sense of self-superiority(!) They’re apparently smarter than even scientists because scientists can get things wrong sometimes because they have to make their predictions with forethought rather than with the luxury of reviewing history after the events have happened. Laypeople can sometimes be incredibly naïve about how complicated some problems are and therefore believe that there are very simple solutions to them. Armchair critics can therefore see the world as overly black-or-white (because history is likely to be black-or-white in the sense of ‘this definitely did or didn’t happen’) and can sound clever when they actually know very little in terms of real-world utility (i.e. employing foresight rather than too-late hindsight).


And sometimes it’s the case of someone can never win even with the benefit of hindsight. For example, is a head of state being a peacemaker who’s trying to build bridges by compromising with other nations, or is he/she being unpatriotic by not seeking a selfish and independent stance for his/her own country? Sometimes we’re just not reasonable when a situation requires compromises because we’ll criticise someone whatever happens. There are lots of predicaments similar to the lines of ‘grey is too white to be black yet too black to be white’.


All of the above kinds of contradictory statements, beliefs and biases are one major reason why ‘common sense’ can fail. When judging the failures of others with this benefit of hindsight, we end up assuming that we would’ve done a better job ourselves because it’s basic ‘common sense’ that of course ‘two heads are better than one’… or was it ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’?(!)


Woof! If you can think of any more contradicting ‘common sense’ pieces of wisdom or ‘wisdom’ then please share them with us for a bit of fun by replying to the tweet linked to the Twitter comment button below!


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