Asymmetries in Grandmother-wisdom

Asymmetries are like signals, once you start seeing asymmetries, you cannot unsee them.

To show what I mean let me cite a few grandmother-wisdoms I heard growing up.

1) Never walk with your hands in your pockets:

Imagine you have your hands warm and cozy, inside your pockets, and one icy morning you slip. Normally your hands do a wonderful job helping you regain the balance or lessen the impact, but they cannot come out of your pockets fast enough. You hit the cold, hard concrete face first, and you fracture your orbital bone. You see the asymmetry here. A little extra warmth every day vs a fractured face once every 5 years.

2) Days are yours, nights are not:

My old man used to always tell me this. I never believed him. It took me years to realize. When you are walking in the day, you can see your surroundings almost as well as anybody who knows that place. But at night, it’s different. You can see little, while your would-be perpetrator knows the place like the back of his hand. He can come out of nowhere, strike, and disappear in a second. You see the asymmetry here. The playing field is much more even in the daytime. Modern street lights have changed this asymmetry to some extent, but the odds still heavily favor the would-be perpetrator here. It’s only wise to believe days are yours and nights are not.

3) Chase a thief but never catch one:

I grew up in a small village in Kathmandu. Most people were struggling with finances there. And thieves were a real problem. You could part with years of hard-earned wealth in a single night. But every so often the villagers would catch a thief. Oh, the poor thief. It would be lucky if the police came in time. Now imagine the incentives of a cornered thief. It is fighting for its life or at least the future of its family. You on the other hand would impress a few people at best if you caught it. These skewed incentives(asymmetry in outcomes) would make it very unwise for one person or even two to catch a thief. It would be wise for it to kill you to save itself. However, you would of course want to chase it away. You would want the thief to believe that it was lucky to escape with its life.



I read. I lift. I code.

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