Assumptions

I’ve been embarrassed frequently enough by making assumptions that I’m sometimes chastised for asking questions. It’s uncomfortable to be glared at as someone says, “I’m not even going to answer that question” but I prefer that to giving shooting advice to Lisa Munson (I knew the name but didn’t know what she looked like) just prior to her shooting an USPSA stage. She just smiled and thanked me. But when she shot it with a better score than I in about half the time I wanted to leave the range in embarrassment.

I’m reminded of this by the incident which occurred here. To the best of my knowledge the commenter is a nice guy and was trying to be helpful. But it was a lot like me giving shooting advice to Ms. Munson. We both made erroneous assumptions. We both assumed the woman was less of an expert than we are because we are men and it involved firearms. As we both learned this assumption can be drastically wrong.

Ms. Munson delivered her response to me in a way that was extremely gracious and I really appreciate that.

There were two lessons there. One is to not make assumptions. The other lesson is you can deliver a response graciously such that the person on the receiving end will be thankful (perhaps in private prays to their god(s)) rather than be resentful for being publically humiliated. Her two lessons are something that I will never forget and I hope others can learn from as well.

As an additional aid to help you remember this I would like to point out you can’t spell ‘assumption’ without an ‘ass’ and ‘u’.

15 thoughts on “Assumptions

  1. I did this a couple times at Microsoft – found out I was talking to the guy who created the WAV format when I was bitching about it and a couple other incidents.

    I’ve clearly learned nothing, though. 🙂

  2. In your defense, if you’d already shot the stage and identified the gotcha’s, your advice could have been quite helpful and contributed to her performance.

  3. “We both made erroneous assumptions. We both assumed the woman was less of an expert than we are because we are men and it involved firearms.”

    Yup.

  4. We both made erroneous assumptions.

    Well, this is certainly true. Alpheus assumed that Sarah actually wanted the question she asked answered.

    We both assumed the woman was less of an expert than we are because we are men and it involved firearms.

    You may have in your case, but you have only Sarah’s claim that this is the case with Alpheus. Maybe he did, I don’t know him, and certainly haven’t talked to him about this particular event. But given the conversation that was happening, I would have given any human basically the same answer that Alpheus gave, in response to the query made by Sarah in that thread. Jumping down someone’s throat for answering the question that’s been asked, even if it’s a basic answer given to a basic question, just makes one look like a prick.

  5. @anon, I had shot the stage but the advice I gave was in relation to an appearing/disappearing target and would have been for someone less experienced than I was. The advice I gave may have been useful to her but only because she used it in a different way than I intended. It had to do with how long the target was exposed. I told her the approximate time and then elaborated on not worrying much about getting all her hits on it because there are no penalties for a miss on a disappearing target (you don’t score as many points, but none are subtracted). What she needed to know was if after shooting the activator she had sufficient time to engage other targets rather than wait for the disappearing target to appear.

    As this was over 15 years ago I don’t recall how she actually shot the stage.

    @perlhaqr, Sarah explicitly said she was “well-educated in safety awareness” but that was the nature of Alphesus’s comment. I suspect Alphesus didn’t fully understand or believe that. IMHO Sarah’s statement is a bit inadequate to make it crystal clear what her background is and hence I think it was an easy oversight to make on Alphesus’s part. I also am of the opinion there is a good likelihood the misunderstanding would have been less likely if it had been a man making the statement.

    On the other hand I think Sarah’s response was disproportionate to the “crime”.

    As I said, I think there are two lessons to be learned here. Let’s just, perhaps grudgingly but sincerely, admit we are all on the same side, learned something, and can do better in the future.

  6. Then there was the time at the local Bar Association mixer with various other professions and service providers where I asked two women if they were lawyers. . . .
    They were gracious about it.
    I analyzed that later and decided they probably weren’t in litigation because there is a look I’ve come to expect in the eyes of litigators that I did not see in them. Something like a guarded fatigue. . .
    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  7. @perlhaqr The exact question:

    Why are some people magnets for violence while others live a life free of it?

    Immediately following that is the following modifier:

    I’m intelligent, well-educated in safety awareness, self-defense (guns, hands, survival), psychopath spotting/avoidance, and damn, I’m tired of defending myself. Been protecting my life since I was a kid. So many incidents from birth to now. It gets old.

    So given the modifier(emphasis mine), including the notes about training, we come back around to the question. The question which if you read the whole thing even takes an additional context when you consider it’s root. The root being that you rarely if ever hear about a first hand experience from gun bloggers having to deploy arms in self defense.

    Situational awareness plays a part, as I had already noted in comment to Sarah, but the bigger item is that Gun Bloggers aren’t a magical group. While it may appear to be, I think if it were possible the rate of defensive gun uses by gun bloggers in a street setting would happen less frequently that among the total group of those who carry, but that isn’t what most cases are. Those cases are things like home invasions and the like. See Jay G’s DGC. I think statistically that pool is about even and since Gun bloggers are a very small subset of the much larger gun ownership pool, we have the same probability as the entire pool, so the probability of it being a gun blogger is much less.

    If that statistical probability isn’t even, that is tied to the fact most bloggers are earning a decent income in white collar jobs and thus live in decent neighborhoods.

    One can be situationally aware and risk adverse and still end up in the shit. If that wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t have defensive gun uses to begin with. So the question comes back around, what causes some individuals to have more DGU’s than another. Being risk adverse is a help, but it’s not a guarantee. If it was, none of us would need to carry a gun because we could just avoid trouble right?

    That was Sarah’s question. It was not, how do I defend myself and what are the basic foundations of self-defense? She noted in her modifier she was aware, specifically of environmental issues. So, did Alpheaus really even being to actually approach the question, which comes back to statistical odds within similar groups? More specifically within groups who are both likely to maintain awareness?

    Maybe I just knew what she was getting at since I’ve met her. I would think though the actual point and goal of her question was pretty dang bright.

  8. I started laughing so hard reading this that I couldn’t hardly breathe.

    Not because this story was particularly funny, but because years ago, before I actually knew much about Joe, (but after I had been to my first Boomershoot, so I should have known better!) I was posting on this forum about long distance shooting, and acting as if I knew something Joe didn’t know!

    Joe was very nice, didn’t point out that he had actually written a program that would actually answer the question being discussed, and didn’t make me feel like an idiot. It took some time before I actually realized just how nice he had been!

    Thank you, Joe, and thank you for being willing to help us all learn that we can always be nice!

  9. Barron: @perlhaqr, The exact question:

    Why are some people magnets for violence while others live a life free of it?

    That was certainly the question in the main post, but that’s not the question Alpheus was answering. This is:

    “We have been stalked and we’re on our toes more than most, and thus avoid risky situations.”

    What do you mean? Can you please elaborate?

    Now, maybe Sarah was only asking for elaboration on the “we have been stalked” part, but I don’t think it’s excessively unreasonable of Alpheus to have gone into detail on the “avoid risky situations” part, given that it was included in the request for elaboration. *shrug*

    Ah well, whatever. It’s not like it actually affects me anyway. Maybe I’m just oversensitive to claims of condescension in situations where I don’t see it.

  10. @perlhaqr

    So couple her original post, her modifier, my comment giving specific examples, and the line quoted by her and her follow up question and you arrive at specific examples as you noted.

    She quoted the whole sentence as leave the context. I put that on as a ending modifier to note we do risk avoidance at a much higher rate than most would do. What there was none of in that comment was specific examples of what has caused bloggers to adjust their risk matrix. Those specific items would dictate specifically what in the risk matrix has changed. As I said over in that thread already I have answered that question in a private email. There is no reason to give internet stalkers their 15 minutes of fame.

    The thing with written text is that the majority of human communication is non-verbal. Effectively communicating without the non-verbal cues can be quite difficult. I’m sure Alpheus was doing that with the best of intentions, and god knows my brain has read something before and completely missed a big clue such as that. Crap happens, but it’s a good reminder of two things.

    1)Pay attention to the details, even the small words can change the context in a big way.

    2)Make sure to read the whole thing as the original post followed by the preceding comments are going to be affected by the same contextual modifiers.

    God knows I’ve shoved my foot in my mouth, most of us have. Some times we miss the clue and our view of the problem is completely different. Some times that difference in view of the problem creates a condescending tone where none was actually implied. That becomes all the harder when you’re dealing with written speech and loose all the non-verbal clues.

  11. I would like to make a few points about my comment:

    First, I saw a question, and I decided (probably impulsively) to answer. To the extent that I was aware of Sarah’s background, it was only from what I’ve seen on her blog; to the extent that I was aware at the time I made the answer, I wasn’t: I was focused on answering the question.

    Perhaps I was a little too eager; and perhaps, this is the result of having been both a student and a teacher, where a teacher will sometimes ask a question to see if students know the answer. (In this case, even if it wasn’t clear to me at the time, it was me who was the student, answering the question for the teacher! 🙂

    I would also add that I had no idea that Barron was addressing the question privately; I saw an unanswered question, and decided to give it a go at answering.

    Second, I’m not sure if I was condescending, and to the extent I was, I am apologetic. I thought I made it clear that I was only going to try to elaborate; and from reading these comments (particularly Barron’s), it’s now clear I elaborated on the wrong things. I also thought I made it clear that I learned most of what I know from the internet–that is a subtle clue, that while I consider myself somewhat “educated”, that I by no means consider myself an expert. Perhaps it was a little too subtle.

    I have yet to take a class on self-defense–I have yet to afford to take one–heck, I haven’t even had the time or means, yet, to pay a lawyer for an hour’s worth of brain-picking on the subject of self defense! (This is a recommendation I’ve seen on my research on the internet, at least a couple of times, and it seems like a very good idea to me.)

    It’s also clear (again, due to Barron’s comments here) that my answer didn’t even cover the whole picture: that middle-class gun-carriers are also less likely to need self defense. I wish I had thought of that!

    Third, it’s always easy to miss out on subtle hints; indeed, sometimes I miss out on not-so-subtle hints as well. Life is complicated, and there are always tiny details to miss; and while I will always try to catch all the details, I will always expect to miss a few as well. We all will, unfortunately, so each one of us will be hit by something like this, for the rest of our lives.

    Fourth, I think it’s a little unfair to say that I was condescending because Sarah is a woman. If anything, I’m condescending because I’m a mathematician! And to the extent that I try not to be condescending, it’s now clear that I sometimes fail. But I have made similar comments on other blogs as well (both male- and female-run), and I always try to make those comments when there’s a question about self defense that I think I can answer. And sometimes I’ll get into a comment-argument with someone who has no clue as to what self defense is (and such commenters will also generate the longest comments from me); I think the last time this happened, the person who I was responding to was probably male.

    When I read comments, I don’t keep track of who’s male and who’s female–with the likely exception of what voice I subconciously “assign” to the various commenters. I do not assume that I’m more knowledgable than a given person because of my manliness; to the extent that I assume I’m knowledgeable, it’s because I’ve read a lot of stuff, primarily on the internet.

    And I’m knowledgable enough, that when I see a question I think I can answer, I’m likely to try to answer it–ragardless of who asked the question, or who else is around that could probably answer the question better! Thus, I would recommend keeping an eye out for my comments. While I expect some of them to hit the mark, it’s likely that I’ll need correction again in the future; all that I ask is, after wacking my head with the 2×4 of Reality, to please be gentle bandaging it up afterward. 🙂

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