Recently, I read an article in the New York Times about the illusion of control, and it struck me how very appropriate it was given the pandemic. The illusion of control  is a tendency we all have to overestimate our ability to control events. Thus, we feel or believe that we have a sense of control over outcomes that we cannot influence whatsoever.

In her article, Dealing with the Hand of Fate (June 21,2020), Maria Konnikova comments how she has spent years researching this cognitive bias,  witnessing “…smart people take credit for things that were wholly outside their power and  blame for things that were actually a result of their incorrect strategy.” (Id.)  But even with all of her research, she did not fully understand the degree to which this bias plays out in everyday life. While we think we are “in control” of our daily lives, in reality “luck” has a lot to do with it.

The author found this out the hard way by playing poker. While we all may think that poker is poker, it is quite a good game to study from the aspect of Game Theory as noted by John Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern von Neumann in their work, “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior.”  The author studied poker to answer the question, “What do we control and what don’t we control? And whether our actions will make a difference.” (Id.)

What the author learned is that much of winning /losing at poker has to do with luck. In poker, you are dealt some cards and while you can make some decisions based on those cards, you cannot and do not control the cards remaining in the deck to be dealt to you and the others. All of your skill can not control the next card to be dealt. As the author notes,

 Chance is just chance. It is neither good nor bad. Without us to supply meaning, it’s simple noise. The cards don’t care who you are. They have no concept of fairness. They are just dealt-and we are left to deal with the fallout, to interpret the noise. And so, the most we can do is learn to set aside what we can do nothing about and, instead, focus on controlling what we can. (Id.)

In sum, while skill may play some part in our everyday lives, luck plays a much more predominant role. We really do not have as much control over external events as we would like to think.

And as you may guess, this applies to disputes and lawsuits. While we may be able to control our own narrative of what happened, we can neither control the narrative of the other party nor how the “story” is heard by a judge or jury.  While we have the ability to “tell” them our “side” of the story, a judge or jury may “hear” it differently than how we “tell” it. It is simply out of our control how others perceive what we have to say. Even with the skill of a very experienced trial attorney, luck still plays a role.

This hard truth reminds me of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

… Just something to think about.

Stay safe and healthy!




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