Remember before the Internet and Snopes.com, how we would tell each other stories and simply believe them because they were plausible, but not necessarily prove-able? It was a lot like a giant version of the “telephone game” we used to play in elementary school. Each time the story passed through one set of ears, brains and lips it would change just a little. So, by the time the story got to you, it was probably well evolved from the original. The best part is, you didn’t care. The story being told was the story you heard, and that was good enough.
Back in those ancient times, one of my favorite stories was the one about the truck that got stuck going under a bridge that wasn’t quite tall enough. The story goes that a truck drove under a bridge and although it was really close, in the end the truck was solidly wedged and couldn’t be backed out. The police department, the fire department, and the town engineer were all called to the scene. They all came and assessed the situation, took measurements, conferred with each other, and discussed all the options. After several hours there was no clear path forward, but they needed to do something since the stuck truck was really disrupting traffic. It was at this point, when they seemed to be at an impasse, that a station wagon (remember those) with a family rolled by. In the back seat was a precocious little boy who simply yelled out the window, “let the air out of the truck’s tires!”
All too often we make our predicaments out to be more complex than they need to be. We do this most often when we find ourselves in a situation where we’re convinced that we need a highly trained expert, forgetting that all highly trained experts are just regular people like us.
A few years ago I managed to chip one of my two front teeth. It was just a small chip on the back of the right tooth, but it was sharp and uncomfortable. This happened around 9:00pm one evening. I had just been to the dentist a few days before and I was leaving on a business trip at noon the next day. Bottom line… I did not have time (nor was I willing) to go back to the dentist and that’s assuming I could even get an appointment. I did need to do something though because the sharp edge on my tooth was annoying.
I remembered once asking my dentist what the equivalent grit would be on the pads he was using to smooth over a filling he had just completed and he had guessed “something like 600.” As it happened, I had some 600 grit, wet/dry sandpaper down in my shop from the recent installation of the soapstone counter tops in our kitchen.
So, down to the shop I went. I cut a small strip of the 600 grit sandpaper, wet it in the sink and rubbed it back and forth on the sharp edge of my tooth. To my pleasant surprise it actually worked. The sharp edge went away and it didn’t hurt at all.
Six months later when I was back at the dentist for a cleaning, I told him what I did. He looked closely at the area and said that I had done pretty much what he would have done and it looked like I did a good job to boot. Now, I am not advocating do-it-yourself dentistry. There are a lot of good reasons that we rely on experts for certain things, but given the circumstances of my chipped tooth, it seemed like a reasonable shot to take.
The point is in the simplicity. Like the little boy in the station wagon, we need to step back, look clearly at things for what they are, and not get all tied up in what we can prove or what provides a certified guarantee. In this age of access to unlimited information too often we seek answers of high precision and specificity because we think nothing less will do. However, sometimes, plausible is enough of a starting point for us to find a simple and effective solution all on our own.
Enjoy each story as it is told to you, and when you re-tell it, it is the spirit of the story that matters, not what you can prove.
Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.