Thursday, September 27, 2007

Anecdote: The Parable of Confused Direction

While sitting here enjoying my Moose Drool and trying to piece together an essay on how to keep from being one of those jerks that always needs to be right, I was reminded of an interesting skirmish I had with a friend over the stupidest thing.

Way Back In College

It was years ago, when we weren't even freshmen in college for a whole week. Now somehow it came-up, while sitting one night on the lawn outside our dorm, that we disagreed as to which direction was North.

Now, being academically inclined, I cannot let a disagreement go until it's come to a satisfactory resolution. So my first attempt to support my contradictory viewpoint was to point out the North Star and say "Look! See? That direction must be North!".

Unfortunately, we were both from a rural area where you could see an enormous multitude of stars, and so this brightly lit city sky, with its relatively few stars, obscured our ability to recognize the constellations. Thus, I was quite unperturbed when she disagreed with my assessment, and pointed at another star as being Polaris.

This led me to my second attempt: to have her recollect the companion we wandered about with all throughout those first wide-eyed days of college: a campus map. Now since we agreed on how the map oriented compared to where we were sitting, I tried to reason that maps almost always have North at the top. And therefore what she thought was North was actually West.

But since we did not have an actual map to point at a compass rose, my reasoning was rebutted by her with a simple: "Well, this map is different!"

So, after a little skirmish over the plausibility of her claim, in which she refused to budge on her position while finding no further arguments to support it, it dawned on me: I knew how to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that her North could not possibly be North.

Now it needs to be noted that she was pointing in a direction perpendicular to mine, because she was using the local coast line, in accordance with her geographical experiences in other places, to discern which way was North.

So I pointed at the Moon, which was low on the horizon, and said "The Moon rises in the East and sets in the West. Therefore that direction is either East or West."

Now the Moon was in what was her "South", and so it became obvious that she was quite confused because her "North" was really either West or East, and either way it was clear that it could not possibly be North.

Now this was too much for her: she became entirely frustrated with the fact that she was proven wrong, and she jumped up with a face red with frustration and left in a hurried hissy!

Food For Thought

I was very annoyed with her reaction. I didn't want the discussion to end this way at all. All I really wanted was to find out the truth.

I was pretty certain I was correct, being that I have an obsession with maps (to which I think everybody should have an obsession with maps). But even though I knew the maps so well, that didn't mean that I was incapable of making a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes, and no one can know everything, so all I really wanted to do was discuss it out until we reached an agreement as to what was most likely the truth.

In fact, this was an exercise that one of my other great friends and I have always enjoyed. Most of our time together (mostly as teenagers) was spent tabling topics to hash out in search of a better understanding of the truth. His ability to put his ego aside--combined with his Spock-like calm logical approach--was often very frustrating for me because if you were wrong about something, he would slowly pin you down into a corner, never showing any sign of emotion the entire way.

But in the end, It was his Spock-like calm and logic that I can thank for having learned how to overcome my own ego and to admit when I am wrong.

Unfortunately, my good friend in this story was unable to do the same thing in her younger years, whch led to many unfortunate consequences including alienated friendships and stagnation of ideas.

More Beer?

So now that I've managed to throw this thought out onto the page, the real question I have for all of you is if there is another Moose Drool in the fridge.

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