Blame or Credit, Not Always The Easy Answer
I’ve been posting about the importance of critical thinking all week. And today, a friend and professional peer gave me just the words I needed to express an important idea. “It’s not the pickle juice!”
What is the cause of the effect?
Let me explain. I arrived at Southwest College to teach my afternoon intensive class in healthy communication to the new crop of freshmen. Dr. James Sensenig had just finished teaching his morning intensive and is packing up his stuff. He and I have been doing this tag team intensive at Southwest for a few years now, and we usually have a moment of connection and conversation as he’s heading out and I’m heading in. I think this is in large part due to the pleasure I take in his company, but it could be that he enjoys me as much as I enjoy him. I don’t ask. But I do enjoy these brief moments of exchange with Jim. I see him as playing a leading edge role in many lives. You see, Jim and I go way back. He was the academic dean at National College when I was a student there, and I like to give him credit for starting my speaking and training career one afternoon in 1979. That was the day he called me to his office and asked me to appear on a local moderated forum-style TV show called Town Hall, where the topic among the various stake holders was alternatives in health care. (I’ll save the rest of that story for another time.)
So Jim is telling me about a multiple choice question that appeared on an exam he’d seen somewhere in which a person with GERD does an Internet search for a natural treatment for this troubling condition, and finds a web site that prescribes pickle juice. The person uses the pickle juice and gets relief. The question is, “Which of the following explain this result:” And one of the choices is “Pickle Juice.”
Now I wish I could recall everything about this story, as Jim shared it with me, but sadly, all that remains is his emphatic statement that, and he was laughing when he said this, “It’s not the pickle juice!” And it stayed with me, in part because it makes me laugh, and in part because I recognize in this a metaphor for a common human behavior.
Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
It’s the behavior of ascribing cause (whether as blame or as cure) to whatever easy answer is at hand. Like me saying that Jim is responsible for my career. He’s not, I am, that’s that. But he did play a role. Just a minor one. He’s be first to acknowledge that. He has no desire to be the pickle juice in my decision tree. I feel the same way. As a speaker and trainer, I get a lot of testimonials, and I’m grateful for each one of them. In fact, I encourage them. (You can call and leave one right now on my comment line, at (214) 615-6505 ext 8969!) I believe in giving credit where credit is due. But I deeply dislike attribution given where it isn’t deserved. I don’t want the credit for what you do in your life, any more than I want the blame.
What’s my problem with false cause? Human history demonstrates the danger of people jumping to conclusions and placing blame or placing their faith where it doesn’t belong and isn’t deserved. Fuzzy thinking is bad for what ails the human race.
Magical Thinking is Fuzzy Thinking
I think of all the magical thinking that goes on around me every day, all the people who declare determinedly that they waved a crystal, or said a special phrase (every day in every way, things are getting better and better) or word (mantra), or carried a special talisman, or took a pill, or followed some odd scrap of advice, or said a special prayer, and everything got better, or from that point on everything got worse, and therefore, the crystal or phrase or talisman or pill or prayer or what-have-you became the host of angels or legion of devils that are responsible for the result. Seems to me that people are quick to say that something is to blame when things go wrong, or take credit when things go right.
And I just want to call out, HEY, IT’S NOT THE PICKLE JUICE!
The lucky man thinks he’s smart. The smart man knows he’s lucky.
Just today, I heard of someone who made a bad decision in a tight situation and blamed the person who noticed it and brought it to their attention. Just today I heard of someone who made a good investment and thanked God for this special gift. Just today someone got angry at me when I did what I said I would do all along. I became the pickle juice. EW.
There have been many times in my life when I’ve been in the right place at the right time with the right tool, and didn’t get to use it, or was asked for it and got to provide it. But it’s not the pickle juice. It’s the person asking for it that made it possible. Someone calls me and tells me they have a problem. I’m just brainstorming outloud, and I suggest they might say or do something in particular. And everything turns out great. They tell me I’m a genius? But am I? Or am I the pickle juice? I’d like to claim the former. But I’m fairly certain it’s the latter. So I say, give yourself credit. You listened, you acted, you made it happen. Glad I could help.
This Post Isn’t About The Pickle Juice
You can tell I like the phrase ‘pickle juice’ because of the way I keep finding an excuse to use it. In this case, the phrase ‘pickle juice’ has become my pickle juice! But it’s not the phrase, it’s what it means to me, and how I use that matters to me. And if it’s not the pickle juice in your situation, what is it? As my friend Margarita said, people are complex and so are circumstances. There are many variables that produce certain results. Yes, pickle juice may play a role. But in life, it is rare that the easy answer is the true one. I think that if you expand the frame of reference to include all the variables, you may find more informed, more useful answers. Some point right back at you.
My point? The next time you are ready to take the easy answer, the handy cause, and give power over your life, your health, your choices to some agency outside your control, you might want to remember this little cautionary tale. Because in the multiple choice questions of our life, the odds are that the answer is NOT the pickle juice. I used to use pickle juice to build calluses on my finger tips back in my guitar playing days. But you know, it was not the pickle juice that built the calluses. it was playing my guitar that built the calluses. The pickle juice played a role in me wanting to build the calluses quickly so I could stop sticking my fingers in the stuff!
Where’s the pickle juice in your life? What is it really? Your comments are always welcome.
Back in a couple days.