Ignorance is bliss
By Christian on Saturday 3 December 2011, 07:14 - Permalink
Last August at the LinuxCon North America in Vancouver, one of the best presentation was "Good Collaboration in 2 Words: Structured Fighting" by Clay Shirky.
This presentation was very interesting by itself and there are good reports about it, for example this one on LWN by Jake Edge or this one on ReadWriteWeb by Joe Brockmeier. I liked very much how Clay Shirky explains why Linux, Git and GitHub are revolutionary tools.
But another thing I found interesting is the Firefox bug he talked about at the beginning of his speech, calling it his "favorite bug report ever".
Here is what the report by Joe Brockmeier says about this bug:
In other words, if one user chose not to save passwords for a dating site, their fiancé could also see what sites Firefox should not save passwords for. The bug was filed by a woman who discovered (through the Firefox bug) that her significant other had been perusing dating sites and consequently ended a five-year-old relationship. The bug report not only contains the technical issue, but also the social impact of the bug, and Shirky describes the rest of the comments on the bug report as a mix of technical discussion and relationship advice, and in some cases relationship advice given as one might give technical advice.
What I find interesting is not that there are technical advices mixed with relationship advices given as one might give technical advices, though it is indeed funny, but that the woman who filled the bug report seems to be angry about this bug, as if the bug was responsible for her break-up with her fiancé.
In my opinion if she considers what her fiancé did so disgusting, she could as well have been glad to find out what he did. Indeed in the bug report one of the relationship advice (given by a woman) is this one:
And ok, bugzilla isn't the place for this, but I can't help it. Honey, I would think you would be the LAST person to be bothered by this. Not only was he using your computer to be unfaithful, he wasn't smart enough to cover his tracks, and you got to know about it BEFORE buying the goods. If you're really THAT upset about finding out, take him back and pretend you never knew, or hold it over his head and use it to keep him in line.
I like the suggestion "take him back and pretend you never knew". In fact later I talked about this bug report with an American female friend and I said that it was like the woman who reported the bug would have preferred not to know about what her fiancé was doing. After some time my friend just said "Ignorance is bliss".
A few days later this reminded me about this article by Amy Sutherland about animal, and husband, training. It is a wonderful article about how to improve a relationship.
Amy Sutherland, the author, explains that after "watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard", it hit her "that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband":
The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.
The very important thing is of course: "reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't"
The article is full of other great examples and advices like:
I was using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior.
I followed the students to SeaWorld San Diego, where a dolphin trainer introduced me to least reinforcing syndrome (L. R. S.). When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn't respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.
After two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love. I used to take his faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively.
I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault." When my training attempts failed, I didn't blame Scott. Rather, I brainstormed new strategies, thought up more incompatible behaviors and used smaller approximations. I dissected my own behavior, considered how my actions might inadvertently fuel his. I also accepted that some behaviors were too entrenched, too instinctive to train away. You can't stop a badger from digging, and you can't stop my husband from losing his wallet and keys.
The end is funny too, but I will not quote it to invite you to read the article in full.
So yeah, when confronted with a bad behavior, ignoring it is often the best thing we can do. When we cannot and we get angry, then the best thing is to forgive.