Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Why I Stopped Being a Professor

Here's a story from The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully:

A few years back, I thought I had grown wise enough to be a college professor. I treasured that illusion for a few weeks—that is, until I came in contact with the students. From then on, it was all downhill. I did struggle for a long time, even presuming to teach a course in systems thinking—as if I had anything to teach. It was the systems thinking class that delivered the coup de grace to my professorial tenure.

Judy had lingered after class to tell me she was transferring to Oberlin College. Judy's quick, teasing wit marked her as someone exceptional, so I was disappointed to be losing her as a disciple.

"It's not so much the school," she comforted me. "My sister goes to Oberlin, and we're very close."

"Is she an older sister or a younger sister?"

"Neither."

"Neither?"

"We were born on the same day."

"Aha," I triumphed. As co-discoverer of Weinbergs' Law of Twins, I was now on familiar ground. "You're twins!"

"No, we're not twins."

"Born on the same day, but you're not twins? Are you stepsisters?"

"No, we have the same parents."

"Then you're adopted!"

"No, we have the same biological parents."

"Hmmnh. Born to the same parents, on the same day, and not twins? I'll have to think about that. What am I missing?"

"Think about it. Let's see you apply some of the principles you've been teaching us."

I'll spare you the agonies I endured rather than say the dreaded words, "I don't know. Tell me." By the time the next class rolled around, my eyes were almost as baggy as my trousers.

Apparently Judy had seen the symptoms before. As a pre-med, she couldn't stand the sight of human suffering, so she came up and spoke without forcing me to admit defeat.

"Triplets," she said, and my ego bubble burst. My mind raced through a thousand reasons why the riddle wasn't fair. It would just never do to be bested by this little snippet of a girl. She might lose all respect for higher education. She might behave badly at Oberlin. What would they think of us, sending them such an impertinent student?

"Don't you think that's a little farfetched?" It was the best I could concoct, but I needed time to rationalize.

"How can it be farfetched, Jerry, when I actually am one of triplets?" I should have listened to those other professors. They warned me that letting students use my first name would soon lead to other liberties. And even worse, there were other students watching. Perhaps I could play their sympathies to my advantage.

"Naturally it doesn't seem farfetched to you, but how many of the people here have ever met a triplet before?" I held my breath. No, I had guessed right. None of them knew triplets. "See, it is rather farfetched, at least in that sense of the word."

That should have taught her not to get into semantic arguments with professors, but youth is not wise enough to admit defeat. "I can't accept that reasoning," she continued. "It could be that you've never before met any sisters who weren't twins even though they were born on the same day. But it could also be that you've conveniently forgotten, just to prove your point."

"I certainly wouldn't forget sisters like that, if I'd ever known any."

"I think you would. In fact, I think I can prove that you would. How about a little wager? Would you be willing to put five dollars on it?"

Now I know that no honorable professor would take money from a poor student. But Judy needed a lesson she would remember once she got to Oberlin, otherwise she'd get in a lot of trouble with professors who weren't as broad-minded as I am. "Okay, you're on. And these are our witnesses when the bet is finally settled."

"Oh, that won't take long. We can settle it right now."

"Right now? How can you possibly prove I've met sisters born on the same day to the same parents who weren't twins?"

"Because you've got two such sisters living in your own house!"

"What? In my own house? Don't be ridi—. Arrrgh!"

That was the sound of the air escaping from my over-inflated windbag. At that moment, I decided that laughing at myself was a great deal more fun than being a professor. Besides, I couldn't help myself.

Weinberg's Law of Fetch

I told the story about fifty times that day (even a retiring professor has some privileges). When I arrived home, I just couldn't resist telling Dani. I also told the two sisters, born to the same parents, on the same day, who are not twins. Although they probably didn't fully appreciate the story, Rose and Sweetheart love to bark and wag their tails when they hear us laughing, so they joined in the fun. Because they hear better than they see, and because "fetch" is their favorite game, I composed Weinberg's Law of Fetch:

Sometimes farfetched is only shortsighted.

I did want to call it Weinberg's Law of Triplets, but that would have spoiled the riddle. Besides, Rose and Sweetheart aren't triplets. I believe there were seven in their litter.

So, for more memorable stories with morals to learn, get yourself a copy of

The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully

3 comments:

Pito said...

I'm dumb. I don't understand the story. Are the two dogs born on the same day? -- Pito Salas

Gerald M. Weinberg said...

The two dogs are part of a litter of 7 puppies, 6 girls and one boy.

They are thus "septuplets," with 7 simultaneous births instead of the three for triplets. They were born on our front porch, and we kept two of the girls and the mother.

I hope that's clearer.

Alan McKellar said...

Great story Jerry and I appreciate you sharing it. It reminds me that we make many assumptions and are biased in our thinking. We need tools and reminders - a process maybe to avoid getting trapped in old ways of thinking. Happy May the 4th be with you! - Alan