Gary Oftedahl: Unintended Consequences–from the Dumbest Smart Person I Know
If only life resembled the model that I carry in my mind, it would be so simple. I often struggle to find topics on which to blog, contemplating how I might use my cleverness, my wit, my self-deprecation to engage the audience. It really isn’t that hard. I just have to remember that I’m one of the dumbest smart people I know. I don’t need to search deeply to find a topic, I just need to stop every time I laugh at myself, and recognize there’s likely a story behind that laugh that proves a point.
And so it was today. And while it’s just one example, I’m afraid sharing it will only trigger an onslaught of similar memories. Thus, I must be careful, or I might send myself into a tailspin of personal despair and loathing—actually, no, that won’t happen. I’m just learning to live with this fact—you can be smart in some ways, but that doesn’t, absolutely doesn’t, exempt you from qualifying for the “bozo of the year” award.
I’ve talked about unintended consequences in past blogs, and in many of my conversations. I challenge those with whom I work, with whom I talk, with whom I disagree, to be careful in moving forward with a decision, and be very sure to consider not only the intended consequences, but those nasty unanticipated unintended consequences of their actions. People often hang on my words, or at least that’s what I’ll assume, and express their admiration for my wisdom. (Actually that may be delusional, self-fulfilling, but it makes for a better story)
But then reality raises it’s head and like a venomous snake, bites me in a region which gets my attention…..and so it was today. You see, my wife and I are sort of “with it” people. We have WiFi, Kindles, iPhones, iPads, and are linked to the world in many ways. We’re never out of touch, and constantly looking for new ways to amuse ourselves, and perhaps complicate our lives. But never let it be said we’re not planning on how to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape around us. So in our wisdom, we came to the conclusion that we no longer needed a land line for our home for telephone services. I mean, what an antiquated way of staying connected, and between our iPhones, computers, iPads, I mean, we’re connected.
So after careful planning, lengthy discussion, and perhaps a bit of self congratulation, we discontinued our land line. No big deal, right?
Well, that’s where those “unintended consequences” come into play—they’re circling now. We live in a nice town home, in a nice area, but have been concerned enough to install a burglar alarm system, to maximize our sense of security. Carefully, and religiously, every night, we set the alarm, but over the past several weeks, have noted an irritating statement at the end of the usual notification of having the alarm set—“message”—which while confusing, seemed of little import. So blithely for the past month or so, we’ve carefully set the alarm, punched in the code and walked up our stairs in an increased sense of security.
There’s one little problem. You see, we’re also so savvy, we’re changing our internet service, to a different vendor as we change our television service (but that’s another story). So today, as we welcomed the new internet installer, he asked a simple, yet profound question—“Is your alarm system hooked up to your phone system?”
I’m glad I wasn’t there, and feel bad for my wife, but I can feel the thudding sensation of once again realizing we’re truly in the running for the “dumbest smart people we know” award, given out monthly in our home. For when we cleverly discontinued our telephone service, carefully considering the implications, usually focusing on the positive, we missed just one teeny, tiny, little issue. We’d discontinued our alarm service.
So while we’ve cheerfully and faithfully punched in the nightly code, ignoring the “message” message—I mean, what an aggravation—we’d had no alarm service, but had continued to pay for it. Humbling, at least that’s how it feels to me.
Now in reality, it’s not that major an issue (this is called rationalization) but it once again demonstrates to me that even those of us who are perceived as intelligent, smart, and “on top of it” are capable of making decisions which, while well intended, often lead to unintended consequences. It’s all part of being human, it’s all part of staying humble. But it brings to mind very prominently that we need to continue to be vigilant and pay attention to the signals we’re sent. For irrespective of how “smart” you might think you are, those nasty “unintended consequences” will remind you that you’re never as smart as you think. Now about that television service we’re changing—I’m suddenly a little more nervous than I was an hour ago. Should I be?
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