Sunday, August 28, 2011

You 'Should' Read this Post

Speaking of constructs... the word 'should' is an interesting one, man. Compare the following two sentences:

"You should eat fruits and vegetables."

"You should give fruits and vegetables to those who don't have food."

You can probably quibble over what I'm about to say, but most people would agree that the word 'should' takes on different meanings in the different sentences. In the first, it designates a recommendation of practicality; it states that if your goal is to be healthy, then eating fruits and vegetables is a good way to achieve it. In the second, it designates a recommendation of morality; it states that for whatever reasons some things are right and others are wrong, giving fruits and veggies to the less fortunate is one of the right ones.

I won't try to delve into the second kind of 'should' or answer why some things are right and some things wrong, since I couldn't give you an answer, but the first kind of 'should' is interesting enough anyway. There's room to argue about the first kind of 'should' statements when everyone involved understands the goals in mind, but there's less room to argue about the second kind unless everyone involved already agrees upon criteria for why things are right or wrong.

Kant calls the first kind of 'should' statements "hypothetical imperatives." Notice how the first sentence presumes a hypothetical condition - "IF you want to be healthy, then you should eat fruits and vegetables." If you don't care about being healthy, or if you'd rather have no vitamins or fiber, then the 'should' in the first sentence carries no weight. There's no reason to listen to it. This kind of 'should' statements are inextricably tied to goals; you can't say that someone 'should' do something in the first sense without presuming a goal.

Best practices are 'should' statements that are generally agreed upon as being the most pragmatic way of achieving specific goals. If you want to cold-call people and sell something, it is generally agreed upon that you should not begin the conversation with a question that can be answered with a 'no,' since that ends the conversation. That's an example of a best practice. But if your goal is not to make sales with your cold-calls, then the advice becomes irrelevant.

You can ignore best practices when the people recommending them don't understand your goals. Be a rebel all you want. But to ignore them when your goals are obvious and people have been there before is not only foolish, but probably arrogant as well. Hacking life is all about articulating your goals and finding the most pragmatic way to achieving them.

So, 'should' you have read this post?

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