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Overly Optimistic?

Overly Optimistic?

Hello and good day!

I am quite certain that my optimism gets on people's nerves sometimes.

I tend to look at the bright side of everything, so much so, that my loved ones have accused me of ignoring reality.

But I think this is an unfair accusation.

In fact, I am prepared to argue today that I, a dyed in the wool optimist, am the true pragmatist, while those who stew in negativity are the ones who live in a dream world.

I'd like to kick things off by considering a concept that I've stumbled upon recently that I believe has great explanatory power.

I'm talking about the distinction between anecdotal and statistical.

Anecdotally, we can point to a lot of tragedies.

Take plane crashes for example.

Or the current wars in Israel and Ukraine.

These are real tragedies that cannot be justified away.

Nor should they be.

Tragedies should be mourned and lamented and analyzed for lessons so that similar disasters can be avoided in the future.

Safeguards should be put in place and to the extent possible we should attempt to minimize the occurrence of death and destruction and pain.

No matter how hard we try, we'll never completely eradicate these things, but we can attempt to manage them and reduce their incidence and impact.

Let us consider air travel in particular.

I can give you an extensive list of airplane crashes and show you how many thousands of people have died flying in airplanes.

The list will be anecdotal, comprised of true stories about real death and suffering that can be honestly told.

The resultant heartbreak of family members who have lost loved ones in airplane crashes is real and tragic.

And yet, despite the existence of these stories, very few of us have any qualms or fears about flying.

How can that be?

Clearly, our confidence stems from statistical understanding.

We fly with great optimism, despite frightening anecdotes, because we understand that the chances of it happening to any one individual, chosen at random, are miniscule.

That doesn't mean it can't happen.

It can.

But because the odds are so low, we are willing to completely ignore the risk, at least while the statistics remain in our favor.


I'd like to put a pin in this line of thought for a moment to tell a quick story.

For the first five years that we were in business, we had to send a gunman with every load of cacao that we shipped out of the jungle. One of our team members rode in the shotgun seat with a rifle sticking out his window.

We did this with every single shipment, for five long years.

The road we ship down had a long reputation for truck theft.

In particular a little town called Shumba Alta, located just a couple miles up the road from our operation, was home to a very active gang of truck thieves.

Gang members would stand by the road, looking at trucks as they rolled by.

If the truck had a believable gun man riding with it, the gang let it pass.

Luckily for us, one of our team members, a fellow name Wili (pronounced wee-lee) was as believable a gunman as you are likely to find.

After working for us, he went on to become a small-town mafia boss in his own right, but back in the day, he worked in our processing facility and was a good, hard worker.

When our truck drove by, he stared straight at the potential thieves, with his gun hanging out the window, and they could feel it in their bones that he'd shoot to kill.

Nobody ever made an attempt on our trucks.

Now please consider this.

All we needed was one gunman.

Just one.

That always struck me as interesting.

Of the tens of thousands of people living up and down the road running from the jungle to the city, all we needed to defend hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of cargo was one fellow who we paid fifty dollars for a few hours work.

All he needed by way of firepower was one old rifle and an icy stare.

Each truck robbery was real, but anecdotal.

The road felt more dangerous than it actually was.

Statistically speaking, the number of truck thieves per ordinary, everyday, hardworking citizen was very low.

If that was not the case, no commerce at all would be able to travel along that road.

If with every passing truck, hordes of gun wielding thieves descended from the countryside to attack, the force would be far too overwhelming for a single man with a rifle to fight off.

Our business could not exist if that were the nature of the statistics.

Over time, that road has become more and more safe, not less.

We don't send a gunman anymore.


I can see Costco's world headquarters when I stand in front of our chocolate shop.

Their campus is expanding. They've recently built many, impressive, new buildings. I never appreciated the complexity of large-scale manufacturing, distribution, and retailing until we got into the chocolate business.

We ship one ingredient down this one road at the beginning of our supply chain and we end up selling a few dozen products to our thousands of customers.

Costco and its vendors ship a million products down a million little roads and sell to millions upon millions of customers.

If you were to add up a day's worth of the peaceful and cooperative human interactions required for Costco to exist and compare the total to a day's worth of violent crime worldwide, including wars, I believe you'd find that the mere fact of Costco's existence shows that humanity in its current state is overwhelmingly peaceful.

That is just Costco.

And Costco is but an infinitesimal part of global human interaction.

Most of what happens in the world today will be good, wholesome, productive, and life sustaining.

The bad stuff is anomalous, outlying, and statistically rare.

I know this seems like a counterintuitive position to take given all the bad news in the world.

But we must remember that badness is an ever-present fact of life on planet earth.

It has always existed and very likely always will.

We don't get to judge badness in absolutes, because if we did, nothing could ever be good.

A drop of badness would nullify an abundance of goodness.

There is always a mix of both.

We can only ask what percentage of the overall human experience is affected by badness and whether it is increasing or decreasing over time.

Anyhow, I am running out of space for now.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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