Tag Archive | human nature

Drip, drip, drip— or, Showing up matters

A drop of water falls into more water...

Credit: Pixabay

A few months before my 18th birthday, both my maternal and paternal grandfathers, independently, started asking me if I had registered to vote, since I was going to be eligible to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. They were both big believers that voting wasn’t merely a right, it is also a responsibility. My paternal grandfather, for instance, was the one who told me when I was much younger that I shouldn’t argue politics with my father specifically because Dad had never voted in his life and therefore didn’t have a right to express an opinion on such matter.

The main thing I remember about that first election was that the person I voted to represent me in Congress won, while the down ballot races were more mixed. My preferred party lost the majority in the state legislatures lower house, that year.

Two years later was the first time I voted in a presidential election, and I have much more vivid recollections of just what a painful election it was. The guy I least wanted to become president (Reagan) won. My choices for Senator, Governor, and state Attorney General lost. The both house of the state legislator swung heavily into Republican control. I was devastated. It was another 12 years before the person who I chose on the general election ballot would win the Presidency—and that person had not been the candidate I supported during the caucuses. Then another 16 years before the candidate I favored in the caucuses got the nomination (and went on to become President).

My point is, out of 10 presidential election cycles, only four times did the person I vote for win, and even less often did the candidate I favored in the run-up even make it to the ballot. And the way things look right now, the person I wish would get the nomination and become the next president has become quite a longshot. But at no point has it ever made sense to me that I shouldn’t vote.

I was reminded this morning—while I was looking at the demographic information about who actually turned out to vote in yesterday’s primaries (and the heated discussion from some quarters about the results)—of the Zen story about A Drop of Water:

A Zen master asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.

The student brought the water, and after cooling the bath, threw the remaining water over the ground.

“Think,” said the master to the student. “You could have watered the temple plants with those few drops you have thrown away.”

The young student understood Zen in that exact moment. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means drop of water, and lived to become a wise Zen master himself.

The usual lesson people take from the story is that it’s easy while struggling with big problems (the buckets of water), to become careless about more routine chores.

One of the most fundamental of chores is to show up. It doesn’t matter how pure or noble your intentions are. It doesn’t matter how many people you have harassed tried to educate on line. It doesn’t even matter if you have volunteered or donated to your great and noble candidate. If you don’t show up and vote, you leave the decision to other people. And yelling about conspiracies after the vote didn’t go your way, rather than admitting that the people who showed up (and thanks to voter suppression tricks going on in some states, stood in line for up to 7 hours before getting to cast their votes) just picked a different person.

If you did show up and vote, but the polling data indicates that a lot of people who claim to agree with you didn’t, those people are the ones you should be yelling at. They are the ones who have let you down. The other voters who maybe have your candidate as their second or third choice are not the problem.

Being reactionary – bad rules and good expectations

“Sorry but your password must contain an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin.”

“Sorry but your password must contain an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin.” (Click to embiggen)

I was reminded this week of the Dumbest Password Policy Ever™. I was working at a company that was a subsidiary of a large company that had a bunch of divisions and subsidiaries all over North America and was in turn a subsidiary of a multi-billion dollar international company. And one day we got an email in the form of a memo from the President of all the North American divisions informing us of the new updated employee manual and drawing our attention to the new password policy included in the handbook which everyone was expected to read and conform to immediately. So I downloaded the handbook and found that policy and read with both horror and amusement: every employee is required to write down their passwords for all company owned systems, and are to keep this hardcopy of their passwords hidden somewhere in their work area, and are to show their supervisors where that password list is, and the password list must be updated whenever a password is changed.

Which anyone who knows anything about security knows is the most insecure way to treat passwords.

My boss called everyone in our department together and said, “Do not write down your passwords! If we get audited, I will tell them that of course we comply with the policy and of course each of you showed me where your passwords are hidden, but darn, I seem to have forgotten.” Which is what every other manager in our division told their direct reports (And I suspect a whole lot of managers in all of the divisions).

I understand how a policy like that comes into being. Someone who was the only person with admin privileges on some important system in one of the other division was out sick or on vacation or maybe even had died and there was a great deal of trouble that wound up costing a lot of money (either just from all the time spent by a lot of people trying to fix the problem and/or other people not being able to do certain tasks for a while). The solution to that is not to make every single bit of proprietary information available to anyone who can sneak into an office and snoop for a while. The solution is to make sure every system always has multiple people with admin rights. As long as you have someone with admin rights who can reset other account passwords or give other people rights to access files or whatever that are only accessible ordinarily to the one employee who is unavailable, you can solve any of the other problems.

Right?

Trying to avoid repeating a mistake is a natural (and not unreasonable) reaction when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, in some circumstances involving certain sorts of people a very simple “solution” that is worse than the original problem is adopted.

I’ve been worrying about this a little bit because as part of the move we’ve been trying to make some changes in our behavior to avoid problems we kept having at the old place. Some are fairly east: don’t let dishes pile up in the sink; it’s all right to run the dishwasher when it isn’t completely full. Others are a little more difficult to stick to: take out the trash or recycle as soon as we notice it’s full.

Those are examples of things we kept meaning to change before. There were issues with the outside garbage and recycle bins at the old place that provided an excuse to put off dealing with the trash at certain parts of the week, but the real issue was procrastination and habit. Habits are reinforced by all sorts of things, for example, getting used to seeing dishes piled in that sink. So maybe the change in visual cues will help us develop a new habit.

Some of the new ways of doing things are because of issues we didn’t realize were happening until we packed up. We discovered all sorts of unexpected things lurking in the back of closets, or the back parts of shelves we couldn’t see easily, or behind furniture that was seldom moved.

But I also recognize that slavishly adhering to rules without regard to unintended consequences can create worse problems. So I’ve been trying to think of this as merely establishing new norms: not strict rules, just expectations.

And maybe that’s the secret: don’t be inflexible!

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