Story of the Day for Wednesday April 25, 2012
Hey, Who Has the Talking Stick?
If you don’t consult others, plans fail. But with many advisors they succeed.
In 1906, the livestock fair at Plymouth, in Devon, England accepted wagers on the weight of a butchered ox. About 800 fairgoers placed a bet.
Sir Francis Galton was a brilliant statistician, but was an elitist. He believed most people were incompetent to have a say in political affairs. Because most of those who wagered on the weight of the ox were neither farmers not butchers, he believed the uninformed crowd would guess wildly off the mark — and he was almost right.
Many who made wagers were nowhere near the actual weight of the ox. When the wagering was over, the ox was put on the scale and weighed in at 1198 pounds. Galton took all 800 wagers and averaged their guesses. He was stunned to discover, however, that the statistical mean of all the guesses came to . . . 1197 pounds.
When Native American tribes faced important decisions, their leaders would gather for a council. They began by smoking the calumet. They relaxed, passed the pipe, and established a common bond. When various tribes gathered together, a chief from one tribe would speak. When he finished, the council was over for the day. The next chief would not speak until the others had a day to mull over the words of the first chief.
When some tribes held their own councils, they fashioned a talking stick. Often, an eagle feather was attached to the stick to symbolize the courage to speak truthfully, along with rabbit fur to remind them to speak from the heart. No one was ever allowed to interrupt the one holding the talking stick. By passing the talking stick to every member of the council, everyone viewpoint was heard, and everyone learned to listen carefully to each person’s viewpoint.
If you’ve been paying attention so far, you may be itching for me to hand you the talking stick. And you probably have some excellent points to make.
“Marty, pointing out that the statistical regression to the mean helps a crowd to accurately guess a cow’s weight is not . . .”
“I think it was an ox, actually.”
“Hey, who has the talking stick?”
“A group’s ability to accurately estimate the weight of an ox is far different from a group’s ability to discover theological truths by consensus. You can’t discover whether God loves you by taking a vote.”
“Excellent point. When others share their opinion they may well be wrong. But, all the same, we’re never harmed by listening thoughtfully to what they have to say.”
“I still haven’t given you back the talking stick.”
(copyright by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)