Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Judging One's Own Judgment

Something happened yesterday while I was bowling in my league that has never happened before in my nearly fifty years of league bowling. I threw my strike ball, it hit the pins a little farther to the left (I bowl right-handed) than I wanted it to, and a pin remained standing. But not for long. Because another pin rolled across the pin deck from left to right and knocked it over just as the pinsetter raced down to grab it.

Bowling league rules say that after a ball is thrown, if the pinsetter knocks a pin over while it's standing or touches it while it's falling, that pin has to be reset on the deck. But it looked to me like the pin fell over without the pinsetter touching it, and one of my teammates, who was watching at the time, said it looked that way to him too. But members of the other team and some spectators in back of us said that the pinsetter touched the pin as it was falling, while a bowler on the next pair of lanes agreed with me and my teammate that the pin fell untouched by the pinsetter.

What to do? As I said, I've never dealt with this situation before. That is, I've seen pinsetters knock over pins while they were falling, but it was obvious that this is what happened. But yesterday's instance was not nearly so clear-cut. There was a difference of opinion between those of us who saw it happen.

I ended up taking a strike instead of having to reset the pin and shoot at it for a spare. But I think the haggling that occurred over it disrupted my concentration so much that on my next ball, I did something I haven't done in league for decades. I threw my strike ball in the gutter. I followed that up by leaving a pocket 10-pin on my spare ball and going nine-out for the frame, which was very costly to our team at a vital moment in our second-quarter position round match against the opposing team. The other team ended up narrowly winning the second quarter and making it into the league roll-offs at the end of the season, while my team finished second for the second consecutive quarter.

I'm writing about this because it touches upon something that has long been an issue with me. I've always lacked faith in my own opinions and powers of observation.

I've heard of psychology experiments where test subjects were placed in a room with confederates of the researchers, and they ended up concurring with the obviously false opinions of the confederates in response to questions about, say, which line in a series of lines was the longest. And it's not that the test-subjects necessarily lied just so that they wouldn't catch flack from the others. In some cases, they actually believed that their response was correct because, even if it didn't really look correct to them, it must be because it agreed with everybody else's.

I have little doubt that if I were a test-subject in such an experiment, I'd do the same thing. I'd figure that since everybody else said a certain line appeared to be the longest, it must be even if it didn't look that way to me. Well, actually, given the fact that I was a psychology major in college and know about these experiments, maybe I wouldn't do this. But otherwise, I think I very well might.

Yet, I'm glad that I stood up for my perspective of what actually happened to that falling pin yesterday instead of silently submitting to the protests of those who had a different perspective. I didn't insist that my perspective was correct, because I know that human perception and eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable and that my own perceptions may be more unreliable still.  But I continued to insist that it looked to me as though the pinsetter didn't touch the pin until the issue was finally resolved by the opposing team agreeing to credit me with a strike.

But this raises a broader issue of how much I can trust my own judgments about anything, especially when it's about myself. In my previous two blogposts, I questioned my longstanding judgment that I was a good enough writer to potentially earn money from writing. I wondered whether my dream and goal of writing professionally might be akin to a wretched or mediocre singer aspiring to become the next "American Idol." I wrote that in the unsettling wake of a linguistic analysis of some of even my simplest writing that rated it as too complex in its syntax to appeal to most readers, I was feeling very disheartened at the prospect of being able to turn even the one thing I thought I was pretty good at into a profitable activity.

Well, I discovered something today that gave me a little hope. I read a New York Times column by Ross Douthat that scored even higher on unreadibility than my writings did when I subjected it to the same online analysis. And I honestly believe that my writings are clearer and, arguably, better stylistically at least. So, if Ross Douthat can write a regular column for one of the world's most respected newspapers with a style possibly even more opaque than mine, maybe there's a smidgen of hope for me after all.

And to place an exclamation point on that hope, I submitted an aforementioned Op Ed piece to a newspaper this morning. I spent a couple of weeks writing and polishing it meticulously until I could see no additions, subtractions, or corrections to make with it, and then I pulled the trigger and sent it.

All I can say is that getting that piece published in such a prestigious medium would be the crowning achievement of my writing hobby thus far, and perhaps the doorway to writing as more than just a hobby. I won't hold my breath waiting to receive word that my piece is being considered or has been approved for publication. I'm realistic enough to know that the odds are very much against it. But I still have a shred of hope in me. We shall see what happens.

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