Do you second-guess?

2012-06-08 13:39



Do you second-guess?

Reader question:

In this sentence (Do you second-guess every decision you make – from buying a car all the way down to the shoes you wore today?), please explain second-guess.

My comments:

To guess is to make a calculation before making a decision. To second-guess is, literally, to guess a second time, i.e. to calculate too much.

Too much calculation often leads to indecision, plus worries and regret if the decision eventually made turns out to be undesirable.

If you second-guess all the time what you should do in the future, you may never reach a decision and, as a result, may miss an opportunity. For example, you want to do a vacation abroad but second-guess too much, you may never go anywhere. You may want to go to Japan to see the cherry blossoms, for example, but wonder if it’s dangerous out there, constantly reminding yourself of the effects of the tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and so forth. And you know what, before you know, April has turned into May.

You want to go to Iceland, too, but wonder if one of the volcanoes there may erupt while you’re there. See what I mean?

If, on the other hand, you second-guess too much about past decisions, you will never cease to worry. And it often leads to regret and dissatisfaction, because you always wonder whether you have made the right decision. In the top example, for instance, you question yourself at night whether you came to work in the right shoes. You know, you wore a pair of black leather shoes to work today and in mid-afternoon, your boss came to you with the news that you’re being transferred to another department. You don’t want to move and now wonder if it’s the shoes you wore.

I’m kidding, of course. It’s not the shoes, but that is what you do when you second-guess too much, blaming on the rain, so to speak, for everything.

Here’s the ancient Zen story about two monks crossing a river. The older monk, seeing a young woman worrying about messing her clothes if she were to tread in the muddy waters, offered to carry her across the river instead. The woman took the offer. The monk then carried her on his back to the other bank. There he set her down, said goodbye and continued to walk on their journey with the younger monk. An hour passed before the younger colleague remarked:

“I can’t believe it!

“Can’t believe what?” asks the older monk.

“What you did just now!” The younger one said indignantly.

“I did what?”

“You carried a woman on your back. And we are celibate monks!”

The older monk said: “Oh that. I put her down an hour ago. You are still carrying her.”

There you go. When you don’t know what to do, you second-guess. And the real trouble is, the more you second-guess, the less you may know what to do. At least, sometimes, that is the case with some people.

Alright, let’s see a few media examples of people second-guessing, or getting second-guessed:

1. In hindsight, news organizations were second-guessed for their trashy and inconsequential coverage leading up to Sept. 11. The most ostentatious examples included the media scrum surrounding missing D.C. intern Chandra Levy and a trumped-up outbreak of shark attacks breathlessly transformed into a “trend.”

Compare that to this summer’s preoccupation with Casey Anthony’s trial, or Donald Trump’s mythical presidential bid and suspicions about President Obama’s origins. News execs pretend they can simultaneously pat their heads and rub their stomachs, but the truth is salacious scandal or celebrity conflict overwhelms debt-ceiling fights and Arab Springs again and again.

Major events inevitably pull media -- from screenwriters to news producers -- in certain directions for a period of time. Like the bar in “Cheers,” there's a comfort level -- especially in an age of fragmentation -- in planting a flag where everybody already knows your name.

Those very dynamics, however, are why such shifts will always be temporary and short-lived. Indeed, the only enduring certainty about media remains that works will be copied -- a Hollywood maxim followed as faithfully as any in the Bible or Koran, and thus a means navigating pop culture twists far more reliable than other attempts to divine the public mood.

One can rightfully argue Sept. 11 helped polarize American politics, complicated travel, compelled a debate about security versus privacy, unleashed new apprehensions, and heightened feelings of vulnerability in public spaces. In TV news, it also birthed the 24/7 news crawl on news/talk channels (and remember, Fox News and MSNBC were just five years old when Sept. 11 happened), contributing to the media’s emphasis on urgency without context, as witnessed during the recent storm buffeting the East Coast.

What it has not done -- in some ways reassuringly -- is radically change what amuses or distracts us. Nor has it given our news media the backbone to focus on what’s important -- as opposed to what’s interesting -- in a brutally competitive, ratings-and-clicks-driven modern age.

- After 9/11, what changed for Media?, August 31, 2011.

2. In an exclusive interview with ABC News, President Obama today acknowledged that he has made mistakes during his presidency but defended the steps his administration has taken to create jobs and improve the economy.

I second-guess constantly... I make a mistake, you know, every hour, every day,” he told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, laughing. “There’re always things that you’re learning in the job. And I have no doubt that I’m a better president now than the day I took office just because you get more experience. But when you look at the broad outlines of what we did, had it not been for the steps we took our economy would be profoundly weaker than we are right now.”

- Obama to ABC News: ‘I Second-Guess Constantly’, Yahoo! News, January 26, 2012.

3. The players are not panicking. And until someone does an autopsy they are not worried about the size of their hearts.

“I haven’t seen no one’s heart out there,” Wade said. “I have a heart, but it’s covered so who would know?

“The playoffs are the best time of year and the most painful. That’s what gets you to the gym every day. I’m only playing for championships, man, and I don’t think anyone’s expectations are higher than my own.”

Game 6 in Boston is bigger than Game 6 of the 2011 Finals because a loss would mean regression, and after the setup season, this was the no-excuses season.

Pressure? Pile it on, Wade said. He’s not living in Panic City.

“You know those noise cancellation headphones? We’ve got to put on those headphones,” he said. “If we listened to all the noise we’d be a nervous wreck.”

Let those who watch the game do the second-guessing and hand-wringing. Let Wade play it.

- While fans live in Panic City, Miami Heat tunes out the noise, The Miami Herald, June 7, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Manufacturing hits brick wall

Get it out of your system

All comers?

Victory lap?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)



















关于我们 | 联系方式 | 招聘信息

Copyright by All rights reserved. None of this material may be used for any commercial or public use. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited. 版权声明:本网站所刊登的中国日报网英语点津内容,版权属中国日报网所有,未经协议授权,禁止下载使用。 欢迎愿意与本网站合作的单位或个人与我们联系。