When I was a teenager, my dad received a special bonus to take his family out for dinner and so we headed for a fancy French restaurant in our town called The Catacombs. I don’t remember much of the actual meal, but instead one of the conversations. I don’t think anyone else involved remembers this conversation but it was formative in deciding how I wanted to communicate with others.
We were about to order and the waitress making small talk said, “It’s cold outside. The thermometer on the bank downtown said it was zero degrees!”
It’s true that it was cold, but it wasn’t super cold, probably near freezing. My brother and dad responded that it must be “zero degrees Celsius“. The waitress said that she was pretty sure it said Fahrenheit. This began a several minute conversation with my brother and dad striving to convince the waitress that she was wrong while the waitress fended off their comments getting increasingly frustrated.
Witnessing this conversation, I decided that I never wanted to communicate like this. Trying to convince someone they are wrong of a detail which will not edify anyone, but in the process likely frustrate everyone. Some details are not worth correcting. Even if they are wrong, even when we know we are right, we still don’t win any friends nor make anyone better off by correcting it.
We hear this situation all the time. Stories are told, “Then we had to drive 23 miles down the highway…”. “It wasn’t 23 miles, it was 27!” When I hear someone interrupt a story to correct a detail like this, I make a comment about how the story is totally different now that we know it was 27. This wastes everyone’s attention and for what?
The reality is that we want our memories to be justified, but our memories are not perfect. Moreover, corrections require energy on the part of everyone involved — most of the time leaving people drained and not invigorated by the clarification of detail. Unless it is a forum where the detail makes a difference in the outcome, it’s not worth trying to interject the change.
In the end, no one but me seems to remember the conversation about whether it was Fahrenheit or Celsius, and what I remember had nothing to do with how cold it was. Some details really don’t matter.
[I’ve also written that sometimes details really do matter, the key is knowing whether the detail is essential or trivial]
“… and the wisdom to know the difference.”