An important lesson learned in eleventh grade came back at Boulder Digital Works recently to remind me of its relevance.
The lesson is that ideas, plans, campaigns and arguments must be rooted in truth. Otherwise they are garbage.
A teacher named Joe Zabielski taught me that lesson the first time around in his AP U.S. History class during the fall of 1994. As the first test approached, all of the seniors who had taken the course the previous year warned us the premise of the main essay question would be false. Excuse Me? No Way. This was nothing we had ever come across.
They said, “It’s gonna happen. Be ready.” Twenty of the smartest kids in my grade went in skeptical and then proceeded to bomb the test because the question was very complicated, its premise was indeed false and we had no idea how to answer.
Since we didn’t know how to react and its complexity made us wonder if it was false we put our best bullshitting skills to work and were totally called out. When the tests returned, the cream of Agawam High School’s eleventh grade crop was greeted with 40s, 50s and 60s.
Zabielski inspired me to think deeper than nearly any teacher or professor before or since. Upon returning the exams he said if someone presents you with a question, goal or task that is inherently false you can’t bullshit your way through it. You are obligated to explain why something isn’t true and proceed from that foundation of truth. If an essay, idea or campaign is rooted in bullshit, it will eventually sink. (more…)