Outside the Box

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tuesday this week, I had a morning appointment to keep in an unfamiliar part of town, so, since I could, I made a dry run Monday morning around the same time. I found where I needed to go, as well as a quiet coffee shop I could use to wait in case I got there inordinately early. As it turned out, I needed the coffee shop: There was nowhere to sit inside that office building, and the place I was headed was still closed when I got there. (I was only a half hour early!) As often occurs, I enjoyed the unusual excursion, but one image -- of a statuesque woman using a walking stick -- stands out in particular. That image, for its example of thinking outside the box, inspires the rest of the post.

The Walking Stick

I was returning home from the scouting mission I mentioned above and, from a trolley, barely got a glimpse of a woman walking up to the building she was about to enter. Tall and fashionably dressed, she was using a walking stick. It wasn't clear to me whether she needed the stick for balance or support, but what struck me in any case was how well she carried it off.

I vaguely recall the walking stick appearing to be metallic, perhaps copper-like in color, but not gaudy, and perhaps jointed, like bamboo. This was no ordinary cane, and yet it did not plead for attention. I was looking at someone with a remarkable sense of style who, if she did need the cane, had turned an inconvenience into an asset. I actually thought for an instant something like, "If I ever have to use a walking stick, that's the way I would want to do it."

(Walking sticks are, by the way, much more interesting than you might think. Some people collect them. Just looking at the Wikipedia article about them was almost enough to make me want one...)

Artificial "Needs"

To continue my theme, but from nearly the opposite angle, John Cook presents an interesting idea: Might you sometimes need something because you have it?

Some people need to work because they work. A family may find that their second income is going entirely to expenses that would go away if one person stayed home.
Or, to put it in slightly different (but less memorable) terms, might one imagine that one "needs" something because of an unexamined premise that appears to necessitate whatever it is?

Ten Thinking Traps

And, to go further, from making lemonade out of lemons, through tossing out the lemons, all the way to not buying them in the first place, I enjoyed this post on ten thinking traps.
You feel the stock market will be going down and that now may be a good time to sell your stock. Just to be reassured of your hunch, you call a friend that has just sold all her stock to find out her reasons.

Congratulations, you have just fallen into the Confirmation Trap: looking for information that will most likely support your initial point of view -- while conveniently avoiding information that challenges it.
That's part of the description of the "Confirmation Trap." Here's part of what to do to avoid it.
Don't ask leading questions. When asking for advice, make neutral questions to avoid people merely confirming your biases. "What should I do with my stocks?" works better than "Should I sell my stocks today?"
The confirmation trap is a favorite of mine since I discovered myself falling into it many years ago and trained myself to avoid it. Ever since then, I have always sought out advice from multiple sources when making important changes. The above excerpt improves on that rule.

Knowing one's limitations allows one to overcome them.

-- CAV


Mike said...

The working/needing-to-work paradox is common in dual-income households when child care comes into the equation. The cost of child care drops off sharply once the kids enter grade school, but while they are pre-school toddlers, it can be steep, even where prices are competitive. The cost of child care can quickly eat up an entire salary, as it did for us in the following "cool story bro":

With our first daughter, my wife and I continued our jobs and paid for child care and came out well ahead of the curve, if a bit peeved at just how much child care costs. Once our second daughter was born, we ran the numbers and realized that my wife's salary was only about 115% of the cost of child care. At the time, we didn't think it made sense to give up that 15% (or however you want to do the math) so she kept working.

Strangely, we started to realize we were coming out behind on the dollars and didn't know why. At the end of the quarter when we did our bills and budget, we realized why: between the two girls (then a two-year-old and an infant) the child care place was going through almost $500 in diapers MONTHLY. They had to do this because state licensing regulations require them to check diapers HOURLY and change them if they are wet or soiled.

Any parent knows you usually don't change a wet diaper unless it's soaked. Diapers (modern non-cloth ones, anyway) are designed to absorb several number-1 voids from a child before they need changing. Soiled diapers get changed immediately, of course. But still, we were going through only a few diapers a day at home per child, but 11 diapers a day at child care per child... one per hour, 22 per day, 110 per week, and so on. Thanks to the force of law, we did not have the option to tell the child care facility to change diapers only when necessary, not hourly. Between child care tuition and diaper costs, we were actually losing money every day that my wife went to work!

My wife had to quit her job and come home, and our finances quickly corrected back to positive. We regaled our tale to a few friends, and they are now my wife's clients: she runs day care out of our home, which can be done without a license in Arizona as long as you have fewer than five compensated children in your care. Without regulatory overhead, we can charge less than the pros and still pull in decent revenue. And you'd better believe we change diapers only when necessary.

Thanks to the state government, we had to quit a job to save money. Hooray Economy! (eyeroll)

Word verification: "cedit". The R would have been there, but his charge card was maxed out.

Gus Van Horn said...


Your story resembles quite a few conversations I've had with friends up here, as far as child care costs being comparable to job income, but the diaper aspect of it really stinks. (Sorry!) Never would have thought of that...


John said...

Every once in a while I'll see someone so poised that they're remarkable, such as the woman you described. Maybe it says something about our times that it's remarkable to spot someone who carries himself with dignity.

Gus Van Horn said...

I think it does, and it goes along along with the fact that it is even more rare to find such fashion accessories.

Both used to be commonplace, and I hope that both may become commonplace again.

Jim May said...

John: I remember an encounter where I was impressed with "poise", but rather than pertaining to fashion, it had more to do with the manner of doing one's job.

There is (or was) a bar in Toronto called The Rotterdam, which was a brew pub and a favorite of a friend of mine. I found myself attracted to a waitress there, not only for the usual reasons but because of the poise with which she did her job. So many just mail it in, especially for positions widely considered menial or temporary (in Canada we call those "joe" jobs), but this lady carried it off with panache, as if she were the owner.

The last time I saw her, she was bussing tables in a dress which I thought fit for a dinner with an ambassador or the Prime Minister. And rather than show any resentment for presumably having to briefly fill in for someone, she maintained that same professionalism and poise for the whole time, which was triply impressive in that dress. And I say this as someone who generally pays little attention to what someone is wearing.

Too bad I was such a chicken in those days :P ... not too long after that, I heard that she'd headed off to Ireland to join her fiance.

Gus Van Horn said...

Often, people like that waitress are neither waitresses nor single for long! That's because they consistently think long-range, and understand (at least implicitly) that even a "joe job" (love that term), being what it is when it is, is very important.

kelleyn said...

Yes, thanks for the plug for personal charisma. In some parts of California, exhibiting it is practically a prosecutable crime. It's a clear, easy to spot indicator of egoism in a person; a true egoist can't hide it. That's why I think that learning to value it is an important step toward spiritual independence.

Gus Van Horn said...


That is an excellent point. Part of bringing back such poise is indubitably expressing admiration for it. I mightn't have made that connection had you not spoken up, so thanks for doing so.