Monday, September 15, 2008

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Football season has begun along with all the craziness that is attached to it like the numbers on the player’s backs. I ran into a man and his wife this week who must now begin wearing his Vikings T-shirt and not wash it until the season is done. His wife, of course, complained about the smell and the rattiness of it all but he insists that his beloved Vikings win more games the longer he wears the T-shirt. He says he is sacrificing for the team and showing what a loyal fan his is.

When I played basketball I knew of players who would never change their socks after a win, their lucky socks would stay in there locker or gym bag until there was a loss. That season we went 24-2. There was not a person left in the locker room who could not smell his socks and I still believe we lost our first game after 17 wins because we all wanted him to get rid of those socks. I don’t think his mom washed them, I think she burned and buried them.

We deal with this kind of thinking all the time, wherever we are and whatever we do. The fallacy in Latin is called “post hoc ergo propter hoc” literally translated it means “after this, therefore BECAUSE OF this.”

As a manager I knew a supervisor who seemed to walk into a department and its production went down. It “seemed” like everywhere he was resulted in business going bad. Deep down you knew it was wrong but it just worked out that way. He was fired because no manager wanted to work with him. The fallacy? He walks in and business goes bad, so business goes bad BECAUSE he walked in.

More kids are violent today than 30 years ago. There were no violent video games 30 years ago; therefore: we have more violent kids BECAUSE of violent videos.

More marriages end in divorce today than 50 years ago. There were no swans in Duck Creek 50 years ago; therefore: we have more divorces today BECAUSE there are swans in Duck Creek.

My waistline is expanding. The earth is getting warmer; therefore: my belly is getting bigger BECAUSE of global warming.

We will often turn this around and believe that avoiding the supposed cause with prevent the undesirable occurance. If we can stop global warming I will be skinny again! If we get rid of the swans in Duck Creek we will have few divorces! If we get rid of violent video games we will have less violence in teens! If we want our team to lose (to get a better draft pick for next year) then wash your socks and don’t wear your lucky T-shirt!

Check your reasoning and see if you fall into the pro hoc ergo propter hoc thinking. This can be very serious because this fallacy is where justification for your prejudices comes from. All ______ people do this; therefore: they do this because they are ______. If you fill in the color then you will get a whiff of some smelly socks.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I will never buy a dress for my wife. I will PAY for a dress but I will never buy a dress … again. When we were first married a quarter of a century ago, I found, what I thought, was a “pretty” dress for Frankie. I simply looked at the dresses that were on the rack and saw on that caught my eye. It wasn’t her birthday, it wasn’t our anniversary, it was just an unexpected gift. I had it wrapped and brought it home. My intentions were noble and good but the unintended consequences of my actions killed me.

The fabric was cheap and obviously so, I didn’t know, I just liked the color and style. It was a number of sizes too small, I didn’t know, I just liked the color and style. The style was definitely OUT, I didn’t know, I just liked the color and well, style. My noble intentions became a heated discussion on Frankie’s taste, style and even weight; ALL topics better left undisputed in a young marriage. Unintended consequences.

We all know about HIV/AIDS in Africa and the popular opinion is that it is spread through a particularly promiscuous population and heterosexual sex. So to solve the problem the US and other “Western” cultural countries flooded the continent with health care training and condoms. The thought was that 90 percent of the infections were through heterosexual sex but it turned out (according to peer-reviewed analysis of 22 studies by the authors of “Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits”) that it was only 25 – 35 percent compared to US percentage of over 50.

So where did the epidemic of HIV/AIDS come from in Africa? The predominant group with HIV in Africa are non-promiscuous adults involved in strictly monogamous relationships. The culprit is poor medical care, specifically dirty needles. Unfortunately for those living in Africa the more “health care” they receive the greater their chances of being infected. Sanitary conditions that we take for granted don’t exist. They reused not only needles and syringes but surgical instruments. The World Health Organization now admits that the needles used to administer the contraceptive Depo-Povera actually GAVE HIV to women in Africa because the needles used were reused. Unintended consequences.

I can still remember the use of DDT in the sixties on our farm in Indiana. It was a great controller of crop eating insects. We even used it to control spiders on our porches and in barns. Anyone growing up in rural America remembers those nasty spiders that found the corners of your porches, lawn furniture, and swings. Even tent moths that would cover and kill trees were sprayed with DDT to keep the trees alive. In WWII our troops were bathed in it to control mosquitoes which controlled typhus, malaria and other diseases. Then came the book by Rachel Carson called “Silent Spring” calling into question the uses of DDT. She stated that she found the unintended consequences of cancer in humans and threats to other wildlife as well as the insects. It was the one of the first fights in the new environmental movement and by 1972 DDT was banned in the US and around the world.

Yet it has been proven that DDT does NOT cause cancer. It has been proven that DDT kills only insects and NOT birds or other wildlife since “Silent Spring” came out. DDT kept our troops safe, including my father, while fighting in the mosquito laden South Pacific. Today over 515 MILLION people are infected with malaria and THREE MILLION people die every year because they have been bitten by a malaria carrying mosquito. There is no vaccine; there is only maintenance drugs that must be taken the rest of your life to keep it in check. The most effective and proven prevention of malaria cannot be used. Unintended consequences.
While I cannot really connect buying a dress for my wife and millions of people dying of AIDS and Malaria I can connect the Law of Unintended Consequences. Check your sources and your facts before you climb on a bandwagon or the latest trend. When you find the unintended consequences of your actions don’t be afraid to suck it up and admit your were wrong, change direction, or simply stop what you are doing. Rachel Carson died before she could retract what her book started, don’t you wait that long.

Your Actions are Speaking

I was cut off in traffic by an SUV plastered with bumper stickers. You can tell a lot about a person by their bumper stickers. My anger at being cut off and having to hit my brakes HARD to avoid an accident was changed into a different kind of anger when I read some of the bumper stickers. After cutting me off he tail-gated the car in front of him until it literally pulled over and let the guy pass. As he passed he gave the one-fingered salute to the elderly gentleman in the car that just pulled over and raced to the next stop light to wait impatiently for the color change. I caught up to him again at the light and watched as he jumped halfway into the intersection when he thought the light was going to turn green but was only the turning lane. Then, with tires squealing in protest, he took off into the busy streets to never be seen again. Here is a sampling of his bumper stickers:

“Jesus loves you!”
“Proud Parent of ______ middle school honor roll student”
“_______ church”
“_______ for president”
Stickers showing he had 3 kids and a dog along with all their names.
Sticker of Calvin from “Calvin and Hobbes” praying in front of a cross.

Herman Melville in “Moby Dick” wrote, “It is better to sleep with a drunken cannibal than a sober Christian.” I think Herman had this guy in mind when he wrote that. I don’t think the children were too proud of their father at this point. I don’t think the presidential candidate was too happy to have his sticker on that SUV while it ran people off the road and cut people off. I especially don’t think that he helped the cause of Christians and his church by advertising that he was an insane driver.

Now I don’t want to give you the impression that Christians don’t and shouldn’t have flaws or are perfect. THEY ARE NOT PERFECT! Christians struggle like everyone else but just like the politicians they have to watch their every action because advertising that you are a Christian, which is what you are supposed to do, puts a target on your back. When you say you are a Christian people will search your life for inconsistencies and hypocrisy. I was embarrassed by the driver of the SUV. My anger at being cut off was turned into a different anger of the name of Christ (Christian) being dragged through the mud by this guy. He just made it harder for EVERY Christian with his antics. The truth is: Christians NEED to live a better and more consistent life than others because we are called to it and because we are being watched.

So watch your actions because they speak many times louder than your words.


Ready for bed on a Service Project in a back-woodsy location, I remember lifting up the zippered flap of my sleeping bag and seeing a few cockroaches go scurrying for cover. There was no way I was now going to slip into that sleeping bag and get any sleep. I unzipped the whole thing and started flapping it to empty it from the cockroaches. I set it down again and found a few more, flapped it again, vigorously, and this time it passed inspection. Yet doubt lingered like those cockroaches lingered for me to simply fall asleep so they could invade the dark covers again. I didn’t sleep much that night.

“Hey, let me do that! I’ll make sure it gets done!” is a scary phrase for people in leadership. On one hand it is your job as a leader to make sure your people are competent and trained as well as giving them new opportunities to succeed. On the other hand it would go so much better if you just did it yourself and/or gave the job to the people who have done it before. When untried and untested requests taking on a job there is small cockroach of doubt that creeps into the covers. You suddenly just are NOT comfortable.

The key is to change that doubt into trust. We learn to trust certain people because of their history: what they have done for us in the past; because of their relationship to you: are they a friend or family; because of necessity: you have no other option. Schwartz says in “The Magic of Thinking Big” that “doubt attracts reasons for not succeeding.” When we doubt someone we have the equivalent of that creepy cockroach in our bed.

If you find that people don’t trust you, then you must ask yourself: “Am I trustworthy?” Have I done something that would signal to them that I am not to be trusted? What can I change to show I can be trusted?

If you find that you don’t trust people, then you must ask yourself: “WHY don’t I trust them?” Is it because they have had no opportunity before or is it because they have already proven themselves untrustworthy. Even if their past was untrustworthy, have they learned from their mistakes so that it is time to trust them again?

Doubt can destroy any company, church or family. Doubt is that nagging cockroach that gives you sleepless nights and paranoid exaggerations. I swear there was a 20 pound cockroach in my bed that night. Each night afterwards I would fully inspect my sleeping bag because I didn’t quite trust it until it proved itself again to me. I laugh at it now but after a few sleepless nights with huge cockroaches it begins to impact your life.

Remove the cockroaches from your life! Trust more and become more trustworthy! Only then can you sleep the good sleep.