How To Be Happy By Being Undecided

My present main client is one of the most annoying ever.

He’s belligerent and rude to his staff. Luckily, he’s not quite that bad with me, but he is “trying” nontheless.

The biggest annoyance for me is that he thinks everything he asks can be answered by what he calls “a simple yes or no”.

This almost drives me mad because, in my long life and wide experience, hardly anything can best be answered that way – in fact it takes considerable skill in framing a question well enough for a yes / no answer to be appropriate.

Unfortunately, he does not have that skill.

One of the things I do for my client is to publish documents to a “common data environment” or CDE. This makes the document an official issue, revision or release. To do this, all I have to do is visit a website and log in, fill in a few fields and upload. That’s it.

He recently asked me if it was possible to take back or undo this procedure – to remove a published file.

Now the answer is both yes and no. No – because there is no method whereby I can visit the site and remove the issued file. Yes – because I can e-mail or telephone the site administrator and request that the file be removed. I tried to explain this, but was abruptly stopped.

He held up his hand like a barrister at law, “It’s a simple yes or no – can it be done?”

“Yes, but…”

“No buts, if it can be done, do it.”

“OK, I’ll ask them to remove it right away…”

“No, no – don’t alert them to this, just do it!”

“But I can’t do it…”

“You said you could do it!”

“Well, actually you asked if it could be done.”

“Same thing. So let me ask you again, in front of all these people, so take your time – a simple yes or no – can you do it?”

“No.”

“No?”

“No; I can’t do it, but it can be done.”

“Is the answer yes or no? I’ll ask you for the last time.”

“No.”

And he moved on. This is the worst kind of idiot – an idiot that doesn’t know he’s an idiot, an idiot that actually thinks he’s smart.

When I meet such people, which is all-too-often, I’m afraid, I am reminded of those wonderful paradoxes we used to enjoy at university. Simple enough stuff, but important enough, in my opinion, that they ought to be taught to schoolchildren in an attempt to be rid of people who demand yes / no answers to bad questions.

I am reminded of Bertrand Russell’s Barber Paradox – it still makes me smile.

The scene is a town where the law demands that all men be clean-shaven, and the town barber shaves only those who do not, or cannot, shave themselves. The problem is “Who shaves the barber?”

The answer is officially “undecided”. Really; there is NO ANSWER to this. None.

What I find is that, in life, in general, “undecided” is undesirable. To be undecided is considered as wishy-washy – it is taken as worse than being flat-out wrong. Undecided voters are fought over in political elections – they must be persuaded to NOT be undecided, even if they are wrong!

A simple Yes or No.

In Scotland recently, there was an independence referendum where the badly framed question required a simple yes / no answer. This was preposterous, yet no-one noticed!

What happened? Well, those who voted YES for change lost the election but got change. Those who voted NO for things to stay the same, got change. No-one got the status quo, and no-one got independence either. The issue was not resolved satisfactorily by the yes voters, the no-voters or the non-voters affected by it all. Everyone got all het up, and tempers flared. Things got ugly and have stayed ugly. It did more harm than good.

Clearly, the answer could never have been a simple yes or no.

duh.

In many things in life, I am proudly “undecided”. I can live with that, and that is one of the reasons why I am happy.undecided

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