A walk well wasted
My best game of golf was one I played alone. On vacation at a cottage we had rented for the week, I went into the local town and played a round of 18. The course is a typical municipal course, each hole is fairly straight, the sand traps are easy to navigate and there certainly isn’t any water. The end result was my score came in at just a little bit over par instead of my usual A LOT over par.
Oddly, I have never been able to even come close to the score I achieved that day. Now, after having considered that my memory does not reflect truth, I am positive there were times I moved my ball to give myself a bit better of a lie and perhaps I gave myself a few more “gimmes” to hole out when maybe I shouldn’t have been so confident I’d make putt.
Fortunately my golf game is still bad enough that I didn’t let this one round convince me that I should leave my job and pursue a professional career or something simpler like investing thousands of dollars in new clubs. But the premise is the same: we overestimate our confidence and abilities far beyond what we are actually capable of.
Our “level of delusion,” author Bobby Duffy writes of in Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything can be influenced by many factors but what we should be most concerned about is when we are overestimating our abilities when the stakes are high. It’s one thing to gamble on the purchase of a new golf club set to support my believed inflated abilities on the links, but it’s another when I am considering my ability to balance atop a tall ladder when chaining a light bulb or understanding of a person’s feelings I’m in conflict with and then propose a solution (that may potentially even make the relationship worse).
Duffy argues that this tendency towards overconfidence and bias is compounded by the media and social media, which can amplify and reinforce our misperceptions and misunderstandings. As noted in the Inside Higher Ed  review, “Duffy also points out that the media, especially social media, can be a powerful tool for spreading misinformation and disinformation, and that we are often more susceptible to these falsehoods than we realize.”
So how do we protect ourselves from our unconscious bias? While Duffy doesn’t offer a specific solution to remedy this, it does lean heavily on Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (even mentioning it in the first chapter) and while Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist isn’t referenced, the idea of slowing down and observing what is truly around you form a good starting point to overcome this sort of bias.
Corporately, I can’t imagine slowing down will ever come back into fashion. When I was a journalist and working for newspapers and magazines, it was usual for a newspaper to have a morning and evening edition. As the Internet gave a way for articles to be updated during the day, the evening edition went by the wayside and then finally, some print editions cover little if any “breaking news” at all. Buzzfeed, which publishes stories are meant to generate as many clicks as possible, so if a story about vintage McDonald’s toys will bring the clicks, it gets published. If a story about the war in Ukraine will bring clicks, it gets published. To keep up with the speed of publishing they desired, Buzzfeed recently laid off all of their writers and exclusively use AI.
James spoke about the value of slowing down, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Everyone has probably had someone say to them at some point “You were given two ears and one mouth for a reason,” which echos James’ teaching with a bit more simplicity. Which is another important piece to be aware of when considering bias. Simplicity is the enemy of thorough understanding. As I made use of the learning from How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading and began by thinking about what I want to get out of this book, thinking of comprehension over criticism and underlining and putting exclamation marks besides what I thought are great points I realized I was simply trying to answer the questions Jason asks us each week:
- What is this book about?
- Who is this book for?
- Do you want to dive deeper into it?
And in essence I am only understanding the true learning this book has to offer in a simple way. So the question is, am I feeding an unconscious bias in how I am going about learning and feeding the cycle of being wrong about everything?
 Duffy, Bobby. Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding. New York: Basic Books, 2019
 Review of Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding by Bobby Duffy.” Inside Higher Ed, November 1, 2019. Accessed March 22, 2023. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2019/11/01/review-bobby-duffy-why-were-wrong-about-nearly-everything-theory-human.
 Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.
 Kleon, Austin. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. New York: Workman Publishing Company, 2012
 ChatGPT to Write Articles for Struggling BuzzFeed.” The Telegraph, January 27, 2023, sec. Business. Accessed March 22, 2023. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2023/01/27/chatgpt-write-articles-struggling-buzzfeed/
 James 1:19-20 (New International Version).
 Adler, Mortimer J., and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. New York: Touchstone, 1972.
6 responses to “A walk well wasted”
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Great question Mathieu! I have pondered this question a bit myself. In my language, “Am I getting just enough surface information about all of these various topics to be dangerous?” Dangerous people know a bit about a topic, but not enough to apply it into complex situations. Worse, we know a little bit….but we DON’T know how much we don’t know about that same topic. Is there anything more dangerous than a surface-level expert? More importantly….how do I not become one as I talk about the Heroic journey or being a non-anxious presence or being wrong about everything or…whatever comes next week?
For sure, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing! Today I have a copy of a book I’ve had on my shelf for a few years to a friend. I said “I’ve checked out the table of contents and I skimmed one of the chapters that looked interesting to me. I think this book is something that would be right up your alley.”
They were pretty happy with the book because it seemed like a book they thought they would enjoy and find useful. So it appears my little bit of knowledge was helpful in this situation. I just need to be sure to not bring out my little bit of knowledge in the wrong way.
Oooh! I like how you found the catch-22 of How-to-Read-A-Book! I love the gift of this book and how it’s getting me through this doctorate and beginning a library of what I want to go back to! Maybe the gift is even after this, we go back to read a book we gained knowledge we needed for this time, may in fact, blow our mind away again later with a different way of thinking then the first time we read it! It’s a gift that keeps on giving! So my question for you Mathieu, is if an amazing game happens alone, does the game exist? Just kidding, in your world of journalism, how does being wrong work out? In my world view it’s rare to see vulnerability from our news when they are wrong, what responsibility does journalism have in being wrong about nearly everything? I ask this assuming the best that perhaps it does happen but more behind the scenes.
Hello Jana – there is a great joke about a pastor who calls in sick one Sunday morning to play golf instead. He hits his first hole-in-one and has his best round ever – the hook of course is that he can never tell anyone!
The speed of news definitely causes errors. Where this happens at its worst is when news publishes the name and photo of someone arrested of a crime. Typically it’s on the front page (or whatever front and centre means in the medium it is being published) however, if the person is later found to have been wrongfully accused or found not guilty, the news media isn’t nearly as quick to give the update to the story the same exposure.
So it’s not wrong, it’s just not complete. I was wrong once. I mistakingly identified a man as a woman. Their name was Leslie, and I assumed it was a woman so referred to him as “her.” They were not happy at all! This is actually when I was working for a magazine that published online daily and you could subscribe by fax! Even though the mistake only went out online they insisted I make the correction in the fax version as well. So people that never saw the original error saw the correction … leading to a great example of the Streisand effect.
Thank you, Mr. Yuill, for the postings. It is interesting to hear different perspective on the current reading. I felt that the rest of the chapters were there to support his point, which is the title of his book.
Noel, certainly we are on a first name basis by now!
I did not do a thorough reading of the entire book, I took a look at the chapters and then read about two chapters fully and then another two I skimmed through before I was able to answer the questions Jason has proposed for us.
BUT I am looking forward to reading this more thoroughly through the summer.