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Published · 3-minute read

Example of Not Outthinking the Question

Somebody in a group chat, let’s call him Peter, misattributed two different quotes to someone. The details aren’t important, but I explained the mistakes a bit and wrote:

Consider working on getting better at identifying when you’re misremembering stuff about quotes

Amaro Koberle, who’s in the same group, reacted with this emoji: 🤨

Here’s the discussion that ensued. I edited it lightly. I think it serves as a good example of a good-faith discussion in which progress is being made. That progress is largely due to the fact that Amaro does not try to outthink my questions.


Dennis: why the skeptical reaction

Amaro: Unnecessary comment. Would have put an eye-roll emoji, 🙄, wasn’t available.

D: by ‘unnecessary’ you mean it was a social misstep of sorts?

Amaro:
Yes

Dennis:
so it sounded to you like i was scolding peter?

Amaro:
🤔 Hmmm. Scolding doesn’t sound quite right, a bit too strong. I think scolding sounds like there is some amount of anger involved, but I don’t think there was. Patronizing seems closer.

Dennis:
patronizing, got it. if you read my comment again, this time like it’s coming from a place of trying to help, does it still sound patronizing? i paste the comment here for your convenience:

Consider working on getting better at identifying when you’re misremembering stuff about quotes

Amaro:
Yes. Does sound patronizing.

Not actually helpful.

It’s a bit analogous to walking alongside a friend, then he trips and falls, scuffing his knee, upon which you say: “Consider getting better at walking”. Not helpful.

Dennis:
ah, you’re saying it’s already obvious to peter that he could get better at remembering stuff about quotes

Amaro:
I suspect as much

It’s obviously preferable to always quote accurately, speak with correct grammar, never misremember, etc.

Dennis:
how many times has peter made mistakes around quotes in recent days?

Amaro:
Don’t know. I’m only aware of this single instance.

Dennis:
ok, that explains, at least in part, why my comment sounded harsher to you than it was intended. i’m aware of another mistake that preceded this one by only a day or so

Amaro:
Okay, if this is something that has happened many times before, the comment does seem a bit more warranted.

Dennis:
if it was obvious to peter that he needed to improve at quoting, why did he make the second mistake in the way he did?

Amaro:
He might not care sufficiently to improve. Not sure.

Dennis:
based on what peter has said so far in this group, just based on the fact that he’s in this group, isn’t it fair to assume to he has an interest in philosophy and wants to be a better intellectual?

Amaro:
I’d guess so, yes.

Dennis:
so it can’t be true that he does “not care sufficiently to improve”. instead, it might be the case after all that it was not obvious to him.

Amaro:
Perhaps indeed

Dennis:
also note that i was originally going to say ‘you should work on’ instead of “[c]onsider working on” but decided that that might be too direct, exactly for the (mistaken) reasons you have outlined. but i was willing to accommodate those to some degree

i should say, ‘decided that that might be considered too direct’

Amaro:
I think that was indeed an improvement on your message.

Dennis:
so we have concluded that peter probably does care to be a better intellectual, and that it wasn’t obvious to him how and that getting better at quoting might be part of the answer. and so, hopefully, if he reads it in the right spirit, my comment can help him improve.

of course, if he reads it in the spirit of ‘you’re an idiot for not remembering quotes right’, then it won’t be helpful. that’s up to him

is that fair?

Amaro:
Mostly. I do think it’s possible that it wasn’t obvious to him that misremembering his sources is suboptimal, but I suspect that he’s actually well aware of this and just slipped up in this instance.

Dennis:
how many repeat mistakes of the same kind would be required for you to consider that he’s clueless and is just going to keep making them unless somebody points it out clearly and directly?

Amaro:
Not sure. I don’t have a specific number in mind. If I had to provide a specific number, I’d say 2 mistakes per week, for 2 consecutive months perhaps. Though I don’t feel very strongly about that choice of number, it could easily vary. Also depends on the context in which the mistake is made. I’d find it more worrying if he did it in an otherwise carefully researched explainer video or blog post as opposed to doing it in a fairly informal chat.

Dennis:
that’s 16 mistakes in a row!

if i ever make repeat mistakes, i sure hope ppl don’t wait to point it out until the 16th time 😂️️️️

Amaro:
True, that is quite a lot.

Again, context matters, but let me adjust my somewhat arbitrary number down to 8 consecutive mistakes within two months

Dennis:
also consider that some mistakes lead to more mistakes on top of those first mistakes. and then again and again on top of those. like, mistakes can branch out and grow. elliot temple’s concept of overreaching comes to mind

Amaro:
Right

Also depends how prolific a quoter he is otherwise. If he diligently writes with very high frequency and he quotes correctly 20 times for every time he misquotes someone, that would change things as well. Then, even if he does make 8 mistakes in two months, I might feel differently about it than if he only ever got it wrong.

Dennis:
i haven’t expanded much on what exactly was wrong the first time he misremembered a quote. there was more to it than just misremembering. ive been talking about it like it was one mistake but it was actually several at once

i guess i’m trying to say that, when there’s a conflict between social rules and the potential for error correction, i’d rather choose error correction

i may have gotten that from elliot, i think he’s said something similar in private

i enjoyed that exchange, amaro. thanks for answering my questions

Amaro:
Pleasure 😘

I did as well

Dennis:
may i post it on my blog? i think it serves as a good example of how well good-faith discussions can go. i’d anonymize peter, obviously

Amaro:
It would be an honor!

Dennis:
as far as i can tell, you didn’t try to outthink my questions. that’s good and somewhat rare

Amaro:

🙏


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