Presumption : almost always wrong

We all know the adage that when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me: ass|u|me. The adage is meant to warn us not to assume intent of others when viewing actions, communications or decisions. It’s a fair warning, because text cannot imply the intent in the same fashion as the recipient perceives that message. It is in fact, one of the easiest things to twist into a meaning that was never there, never intended and certainly not even contemplated.

William of Ockham, a Franciscan friar and theologian, posited an idea that was true then as it is now. Popularly known as ‘Occam’s (sic) razor’ – the law of parsimony or the idea that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. This is commonly paraphrased as the simplest explanation is often best or closest to the truth.

Given the rather acrimonious state of the current world, it seems that principle is often thrown out of the window – tossed aside in an effort to divide from within. People actively presume the worst or jump into hyperbole in order to ‘make points’ that are lost on the audience when they presume some sort of evil intent in any (and often every) action. It isn’t hard to find these examples, a simple viewing of social media, any feedback forum, or any open forum where someone can provide feedback will prove that the complaints far outweigh complimentary feedback.

Maybe it is a by-product of the age, maybe it is a by-product of our current system, or maybe critical thought in education is simply not getting to the point of really communicating the need for emotional intelligence. I am not certain what the problem is, but I do know that there is a large group of people that believe living unfiltered and with anger in their hearts is somehow going to make things change – they seem to think that presumption can be shared as ‘proof of intent’.

I disagree, as I know that people are complex beings and will have differences of opinion. I know that messages are tested and floated as experiments as much as anything else. It would be nice to understand every message’s clear intent, but we should never presume that intention. This is why it is best to seek first to understand. If you do not understand, ask questions to derive intent. This is why no one should design in a vacuum if they expect their product to succeed.

We all know or have examples of products, tools and technologies we use that we question a choice as made. That doesn’t mean it was done to make things wrong or to cause discomfort, and it doesn’t signal evil intent. Although, if you talk to some folks, the first reaction is to launch into a rant about how stupid this or that choice was, or how everyone in that company is to blame for their perception of the state of this thing X.

It simply isn’t so, someone made a choice because they are human beings and because we don’t know their processes, pressures and decisions that are forced upon them. It isn’t very human to fail to seek to understand those choices, decisions and timelines. Every company has the time-to-deliver an MVP on the table in the digital world, and budgets, people and timelines are things that change constantly.

Maybe it’s me, but I don’t ever expect perfection from anything built by humans (or computers for that matter, they were designed by humans after all). I expect reasonably good enough to be functional and get shit done. That is what it is meant to do, solve problems. Code and product do not have ‘intent’ unless there is some written manifesto by the developer saying that their product is intended purposefully to ruin everyone’s day, you can’t presume that is the intent. Well, you can, but you’re just wrong.

The same can be aid to be true of opinions; when they presume intent without seeking to understand first, they’re coming at the issue from preconceived notions. If I don’t like X and I go to every forum that discusses X and denounce it and everyone who discusses X as evil, then I am to blame for being pigheaded and a troll. That isn’t getting shit done, that’s being an arsehole.

What we need to get shit done these days is to learn about that word that we all need to revive: compromise. If that word can’t be used to understand and work on our differences, someone, somewhere will falsely presume intent and nuke us all. Tolerance, understanding and compromise are far too little taught in our system. Critical thinking and seeking to understand what someone means are the best outcomes for all concerned.

If there is anything I hope that we can all share, it is the intellectual curiosity to understand that diverse thoughts can provide unique ways of solving issues. When we fail to listen first, ask questions and derive answers to first understand intent, then we are not learning, thinking or caring for the human beings at the other end of the conversation. There is no perfection in life, there are only attempts to work and cooperate with one another. If we approach each other with humility, humanity and understanding, we won’t presume intent.

If we start from that premise, we can’t be stopped. The we can build partnerships with meaning. I know many won’t agree, but if you’re a reader, I hope you can understand where I come from is a place of seeking first to understand without judgment and without presumption.

Till next time folks. Have a nice day, don’t worry, be happy!

On Citizenship and Stewardship

There are a lot of thoughts that occur to me that I never get to write about. Usually because life, work and the pursuit of trying to make things better is often primary to all other events. However, given the sour state of everyday American life, it has become clear to me that people are being made to feel rather angered, disconnected and falsely entitled. The one thing I always heard when growing up was “the world doesn’t owe you a living” – which translated to the reality that you have to go out and earn a living if you want to live, and you have to do your part to make the world work.

So while it may seem that we’re living in two different realities and worlds, the reality is that we share this land with fellow citizens of the same sovereign nation. We have obligations as citizens, and I think it helps first to remember what a citizen is within the context of the American experience.

A citizen: A citizen is a participatory member of a political community. Citizenship is gained by meeting the legal requirements of a national, state, or local government. A nation grants certain rights and privileges to its citizens. In return, citizens are expected to obey their country’s laws and defend it against its enemies.

American citizens are generally law-abiding, and I would argue that for the most of us, we don’t celebrate, comprehend or tolerate those that do not abide the laws of the land. There are laws that need to change, and that can be done through the peaceful protest against those laws, the rights of petition and the power of the vote. Every real American believes in the right to vote and the power of the American democratic system. We do not believe in denying people the right to exercise those rights, nor do we applaud those that do. It’s simply un-American to want to deny someone their inalienable rights to freedom and the power of the vote.

If we think about it, we also understand that we are all immigrants to this land, with the exception of the indigenous people who were here when we landed upon the American continents. Everyone not initially from this hemisphere is a child of an immigrant. Every single migration has empowered America and enriched that melting pot with new ideas, culture, food and language. There is always something in that equation that ends up building something better than what was and showing us what can be. Everyone came here because of the dream and every bigot today was once a part fo the underclass of America. Only those born into wealth were given a silver spoon, the rest of us have to struggle for a living. We recognize that our strengths are not borne out of a fragility and inability to assimilate differences, but rather from our innate ability to desire to learn and diversify thoughts and habits. Imagine how dull life would be if all you ever ate was the same meal every day. Variety breeds strength, homogeneity breeds defects and weakness (ask any geneticist, botanist, doctor, etc.). We need diversity and we need immigrants to strengthen the country.

Citizens also have an obligation to pay their taxes. That system is a bit of a game for the wealthy at present, and should require serious reform, but it seems that the more lawyers you can afford, the less you pay. Arguably, if you benefit from living here, you should be willing to pay for the defense, the common good, infrastructure, a decent society that cares for its citizens and all that comes from having a working government. If your sole goal is to ‘break’ the government, then you really aren’t acting in the interest of the people, now are you? As a married person, I pay at the single rate, even though that is not required. I want my country to succeed, and I want to live in a decent society that has meaningful laws that serve the country as a whole. I prefer to have roads, bridges, buildings, and equal access to opportunity for all rather than a crumbling heap aging into an empire of rust.

Citizenship also means that I learn to tolerate those who disagree with my views, as long as they do not act violent or threaten the lives of others. Those freedoms end at the tip of your nose as do mine. You can tend to your beliefs as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others. Acting out in a normal society is the act of a fool, and the learning commences when there are actual consequences for actions. There is no excuse to succumbing to our baser instincts and attacking others because of who they are; your failure to tolerate is not another’s obligation to allow your bigotry, violence or vitriol.

We wrote a Constitution to guarantee freedoms to all Americans. A citizen of this country should believe in the words of the declaration of independence as much as the Constitution and strive to achieve those values. It is within our grasp to do so; if only we exercise the god given utility that we were all born with: our brains. Thinking is a critical part of being a citizen. If you don’t think, then you aren’t engaging in the dialogue so much as a diatribe. There is a significant difference and understanding what that means is the difference between espousing any idea and truly understanding the consequences of that thought.

As I watch this world seemingly lost in madness, I wonder how many people stop and actually think, “Am I being a good citizen here? Am I trying to find solutions or just make a mess of things? What could I do better?”

That is the final part of the piece that seems so often lost in conversation these days. The idea of why we think about things, and that is stewardship. Stewardship is taking care of something like a large household, the arrangements for a group or the resources of a community, or in our case, our country and its citizens. An example of stewardship is the act of making wise use of the natural resources provided by the nation and its people.

If we looked at the ills of our 21st century society, we’d have to think that we have left people behind. From a technology perspective, from an education perspective and from an opportunity perspective, we can and should do better. The wealth gap is killing cultures left and right in America, not because of the lack of willingness to change, but largely because of access to change.

Change doesn’t happen overnight, this has been coming since the last century. It happened so gradual that many of us were taken aback at the changes without understanding the forces that drove them. I recall in the 1970’s the constant upheavals of layoffs and manufacturing losses to ‘cheap foreign competition’ – because the “American worker is lazy” we were told. In the 1980’s the decimation of the independent oil and gas industry due to ‘cheap and plentiful oil’ lead to a marketplace flood and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, companies and opportunities. Waves of migration led to the financial industry becoming the dominant industry of the late 80’s through early 2000’s. The wipeout of the healthcare industry in favor of corporate insurance and healthcare destroyed access to rural healthcare – wiping out hospitals, doctors and local practices. We’ve seen call centers sent abroad, our credit history sent overseas and all sorts of loss throughout the industries we developed, built and brought to life through the hard work, sweat and blood of the American worker. It’s been on a continuous roll throughout my life, but it always had one aspect that remained constant. The real beneficiaries were not the workers, but those that could exploit their labours.

Today, I consider myself to be extremely fortunate. My company treats me as a human being, I do work that I find interesting and challenging, and my family is okay. All of this is good fortune, and a blessing. It has not always been so, but that is not the point of my writing. The point of my writing here is that today I do ask myself, how can I make the world a better place? What can I do to act in stewardship to help others?

I can’t be the only one that questions the things I do. It is not easy to not feel like there is something more that can be done, a change made here and there, however small, that can put a bit of positive energy out there to deflect the negative energy so often touted as the state of the world. We all feel overwhelmed at times and I know that it only changes where there is a sea change of realization that we all share the same planet, the same resources and the same goals. Everyone should want to leave this world in a better shape than we found it. That is stewardship, marshaling the better nature of ourselves to work toward real progress.

There is one thing I’d argue for the next decade or so that will make a difference, and that is to provide access to broadband (real broadband, not some watered down version of broadband) to the nation as a grid, or utility. We need to invest now to be able to be the agents of change for the future. We could find the next neuroscientist, the next oncologist, the next humanitarian that delivers peace through having access to education. All of that sound lofty, but we are currently creating hubs of inequality through the lack of access to opportunity without the equal access to the world.

As it stands, moving even a few miles from my present location would mean that I could not work remotely as I would lose access to resources needed to be able to do my job. If it’s impossible for me, imagine someone living in a rural community that depends on some form of access but will never have it. That’s unacceptable as a nation. If we want to lead the world, we need to lead ourselves out of our current rut and start thinking about our stewardship of this nation. Do we want a better outcome for our children and their progeny, or will we be so selfish we allow ourselves to be swept aside due to our inability to think beyond our navels?

As for me, I know where I stand. I’m not in favor of my destiny being one of watching people fail to utilize their brains and simply searching for their victimhood over finding solutions that empower us all. It’s time to start thinking positive thoughts, and remember that there is no “us” or “them” unless you choose to be the problem instead of the solution. Change only occurs when you decide to make it happen. You can make a change if you really want to, and that is the best outcome for all.