Problem Management — principles

When speaking (or writing), people implicitly assign values to things, making it easy for others to accept those values without even being aware of it. Do not fall into this trap.

For instance, people might say That restaurant uses styrofoam cups!, with an implication that there is something wrong with this practice. If they are talking about how they serve wine, then yes definitely, something is wrong. But if they are talking about coffee cups, don't take it on face value that styrofoam cups are necessarily worse than paper cups; in almost all ways they are actually better, not worse. People with the mistaken belief that styrofoam is inherently bad will use the word with that value attached to it and unless you notice this and take the time to evaluate the facts, you'll inherit their false values and make them your own without realizing it.

Similarly, when talking about garbage, people might say That plastic won't decompose for a million years!. That fact might very well be true, but don't simply accept that it is a bad thing. How is a burying a piece of plastic that won't decompose for a million years any worse than burying a rock?

Others will stop a discussion with But that's blaming the victim!, forcing everyone to take it for granted that there is actually something wrong with expecting victims to take some responsibility for their poor choices. Certainly one shouldn't accuse a victim personally, especially immediately after the incident, and neither should the victim's culpability in any way lessen the blame of any person that did the harm, but deliberately ignoring the victim's part in it only does further damage.

Or consider the statement The Gardner Expressway creates a wall separating the City from the Waterfront.. This is generally stated as if it's an obviously bad thing. But is it really? Perhaps separating the two worlds is actually a good thing. If you blindly accept the implied value of the original statement, that's a question you're unlikely ever to ask yourself.

Similarly, some people seem to have a mistaken idea of what it means to have a right. They attach far more value and meaning to that term than it deserves. A right simply stops the government from passing laws that prevent your doing some specific thing and/or makes it illegal for other individuals from preventing you. It in no way ensures that you can in fact do that thing. The right of free speech doesn't provide you with unpaid space in the newspaper or unpaid air-time on television; it simply means that the government isn't allowed to stop you from making use of those services if it doesn't like what you have to say.

Saying I have a right to wear whatever clothes I choose doesn't protect you when you walk through a dark alley (Do I hear someone thinking But that's blaming the victim!?) any more than saying I have a right to own property protects you when you march through that same alley flashing your Rolex watch. Yes, it would be nice if we could all live in such a world, but anyone that thinks that we already do, or that chanting slogans will cause it to happen, is severely delusional, though usually quite sincere.

An even more subtle technique is begging the question (which is not what most people think it is). Begging the question is a short non-obvious circular argument in which something is proved or justified by assuming it to be true.

Advertising, politics, and various -isms are full of such statements. The Nazi's Getting rid of Jews will help German prosperity because Jews are bad for the economy. contains two similar statements that don't stand well on their own, but which seem to support each other when combined into one.

An easy way of generating English sentences that beg the question is to state something using Anglo-Saxon words and then justify it by saying the same thing in Norman words. Eating better will boost your health because superior nutrition improves vigour and stamina. is a statement that sounds much more reasonable and convincing than simply saying the first six words would, but it actually begs the question.

Good values may also be falsely implied, but they usually don't have as much emotional impact as bad values, so are less likely to be transmitted.