Ideas and criticism (was Re: Pseudonym?)

Robert J. Hansen rjh at
Fri Aug 31 00:12:19 CEST 2012

I'm going to be (mostly) staying out of this one, but I think I may have
a couple of useful remarks here --

> But typically in those cases we've experienced, the attacker is 
> buying the second pitcher of beer later in the day (depends on 
> whether he has tenure).

I can't speak about any institutions other than the ones I've worked at:
but in both graduate school and my employers since, if Alice is able to
demonstrate to Bob that his cherished idea is faulty, Bob buys Alice a
beverage -- not as a way of acknowledging Alice's "victory," but as a
way of expressing a tangible thank-you to Alice for helping Bob become
better at his task.  This principle is not modern: it's about as old as
the hills.  You can even find it in the Tanakh: "As iron sharpens iron,
so a friend sharpens a friend."  (Mishlei 27:17)

> We are taught to attack and challenge _ideas_ especially new or 
> unproven ones. It's how weaknesses or fallacies in a theory are 
> exposed. It's the way peer-review works. It's the way science works.

Consider a high school student who's wracked with self-doubt over asking
a pretty girl out: will she say yes?  Will she say no?  This student is
so wrapped around the axle over the answer that by the time he finally
gets up the nerve to ask her out they're already facing 30 and are
meeting up at their ten-year high school reunion.  The student cares
more about the answer, and what the answer says about *him*, than he
cares about what the answer is, or for that matter ever getting an
answer in the first place.  If I, today, at age 37, could go back in
time 20 years and give myself at age 17 some advice, I'd say, "Just ask
her out already.  Maybe she'll say yes.  Maybe she'll say no.  Either
way, you'll have your answer and you'll go on with your life.  Please
stop wrapping your self-worth up in decisions that other people will make."

It's really easy for us to think that if we get rejected for a date,
that it somehow means we're defective or faulty or something.  And
that's crazy: rejection is about as personal as junk email.  The first
dozen times or so it stings, then you get really good at laughing over
it, and then you lose your fear of rejection and you start having a lot
more success.  Who cares if you get rejected a hundred times if it means
that on your hundred-and-first try you wind up having the cup of coffee
that ultimately turns into the next sixty years and three kids?

Likewise with ideas.  It's really easy for us to think that if our ideas
get rejected, that it somehow means we're stupid or idiots or foolish or
something.  And that's just as crazy: a bad idea just means that you had
a bad idea.  The first dozen or so times it stings.  Then you get really
good at laughing over it, and the next thing you know you've unleashed a
hundred bad ideas on the world... and one really, really good one that
people will be talking about for years to come.

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