Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst

During the blizzard a few weeks ago a lot of people were caught totally unprepared for the intensity of the storm. They pooh-poohed the weather forecasts as being the alarmist rantings of the forecasters, who are so often wrong. They pointed out multiple occasions when large amounts of snow were forecast and didn't materialize. While others busied themselves with laying in supplies of groceries and rocksalt and buying shovels, these people b'dafka made plans to be out of their homes the next day. (And yes, it would appear that the powers that be in NYC were among these nay-sayers, judging by the poor job done by the City in responding to the storm.)

For last Shabbos snow was once again forecast, and more people heeded the forecasters and prepared themselves for a lot of snow--and then that "lot" didn't happen. Then there was last night's snow. There were those who once again pointed to the "wrong" forecast for last Friday as proof that there was nothing to worry about with last night's accumulation--and they would be the wrong ones yet again.

Betting on the weather, on the possible actions of Mother Nature is a fool's bet. Mother Nature follows her own rules, not ours. Yet, even knowing this we seem so optimistic that it is WE who know what will happen. And there is a lesson to be learned in this.

Yes, we can hope for the best, hope that the forecasters will be wrong. But, our heads should not swell should those forecasters turn out to be wrong. It is not that we knew better than the forecasters. It is that we were working on blind optimism that happened to be rewarded THIS time; we might not be so lucky next time, or many of the times to come. Instead of preening that we are better forecasters than the official ones, we ought to be looking for a sale on that rocksalt--stormy weather could hit any moment.

Extend that weather metaphor to other areas of life and it still holds: hope for the best, but expect the worst. Be prepared to enjoy the good times, but be equally prepared to cope with and overcome the bad times. This doesn't mean we should adopt a pessimistic viewpoint of life. It does mean that we should adopt a realistic viewpoint. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don't go the way we want them to, the way we planned them to, the way they should. The person who understands this is the one best equipped to "weather the storm" of life and prevail in the end. Thinking through all the possibilities and being prepared for them makes a lot more sense than stubbornly refusing to entertain the notion that nothing bad will happen if you are extra careful in planning for the good. Good and bad are the two sides of the same coin. Probability theory tells us that if we toss that coin long enough an equal number of heads and tails will come up. Just because a run of heads has come up now doesn't mean that the tails are not going to appear on the next toss.

We need to recognize that being prepared for the worst that can happen is a good thing and not being pessimistic at all. It makes us better able to navigate through the storms that happen in life.

That being said, I wouldn't mind it at all if all the forecasters in the northeast were wrong for the rest of their lives as regards snow. I have had my fill of the stuff and would not cry if I never again saw a snowstorm up close and personal. Excuse me now while I go out and uncover my car yet once again. Couldn't the coin have come up heads this time?! Yeah, yeah, I know--just grab the shovel and salt and get going.

1 comment:

Primum Non Nocere said...

Great post! I served on an Air Force Search and Rescue team a few years back and there were two phrases that were drilled into us, "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst" and regarding redundancy and equipment failure "One is none, and two is one." U'shmartem meod l'nafshosechem...the boy scouts had it right, be prepared. Best of luck to everyone affected by the storm. Stay warm and safe.

Primum Non Nocere: 'Tis the Set of the Sails