The other Murphy’s Laws

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong or its shorter version: whatever can go wrong, will. This is best known as Murphy’s Law. It is in fact the First Law because there are other Murphy’s Laws.

Looking back at my seven decades of life on Earth, I can attest that this principle has mostly been proven true for me. From experience, I know that things hardly ever go quite according to plan. There was always a glitch somewhere waiting to happen. It occurred many times in my life, too many to enumerate here. Even when things seem too be going smoothly, part of my brain tells me that something is bound to go askew and derail our best laid plans.

That’s because of Murphy’s Fifth Law: If anything simply cannot go wrong, it will anyway. Murphy’s 14th law: If anything can’t go wrong on its own, someone will make it go wrong.

That’s why I don’t get my confidence level too high. I have learned to temper my expectations. I have two working mantras in life to keep me grounded: Expect the unexpected. Expect to be disappointed.

When I am in a rush to accomplish an activity, and I want to get to it done as quickly as possible, at the back of my head is another motto to rein me in: Festina lente. Make haste slowly. A shortcut is often not the shortest but rather the longest distance between two points. If you rush anything, you tend to skip important steps towards doing things right, and that negligence could be your undoing. Remember always, the devil is in the details.

Notice that when a problem seems to get better it makes a turn for the worse? Take as an example our long lockdown. By the end of 2020, we thought we were able to contain it and many thought the worst was over and we would just coast along until the arrival of the vaccines. But I knew in my gut, it was illusionary. True enough, the surge started again, back with vengeance. Again our health-care system was tested to the limit. We are still scrambling, trying to stay on top of the surge.

Like I was telling a friend, the operative word should always be “abundance of caution.” Praning, in the colloquial lingo.

I have been involved in many live events that turned to fiascos, ruined by a small unforeseen glitch even after doing several run-throughs. A two- or three-second voltage surge or somebody tripping on a cable can trigger a domino of foul-ups in the technical set-up. Once that happens, there goes your bravado of promise to client to deliver a flawless seamless show.

Colleagues say I am too pessimistic. No I am not, I am just being pragmatic, or anticipative. It is my antidote or my way of building immunity against Murphy’s Law.

But there are other Murphy’s Laws, which I have encountered that have been proven to be true. Here are a few of them.

Murphy’s Second and Third Law. Nothing is as easy as it looks. Everything takes longer than you think.

There’s a Paul Simon song that says: The more you get near your destination the more it keeps sliding away.

Whenever we get something fixed at home, it always takes longer than what the contractor or master carpenter has estimated. Firstly, because when we estimate how long something’s going to take (or how much of other limited resources, such as money and energy, it will consume), our conclusion is based on a rough guesstimate of the costs of that particular task or project. Not surprisingly, the more variables involved in completing the task or project, the more likely it is that an unexpected event will delay the project.

What seems to be a no-brainer often becomes more complicated than you thought. Let me tell you what happened to me just a week ago. I brought our car for a simple oil change. I thought nothing to it since I have it done every year and it usually takes just a few minutes. Guess what the mechanic found? A leak and a faulty gasket. Then he said I needed to change my spark plugs. And then he found something wrong with the breaks. And that leisurely visit to the mechanic for a simple oil change ruined my Sunday and made a big dent on my wallet.

There are other laws that do not necessarily belong to the canon of Murphy’s Laws but  I have seen them happen to me so many times that they have become part of my cynic’s code.

The other line always moves faster. When wife and I get to line up to pay our groceries, we look for a queue that seems to have carts with fewer items. And no exaggeration, our line gets stalled. We seem to always get to follow someone who has an obscure item without a price tag or which the machine can’t read, so the cashier has to get a bagger to check the price tag. If not, the lady ahead pays with her credit card, and then there’s a problem with her card, and after checking the card and some discussion with the cashier our line finally moves forward. Or it could be a senior citizen who suddenly remembers an item she also needs and has to double-back to get it. Meanwhile, the other lines have moved ahead by two or three carts.

The same thing about lining up at the fast-food counter. Why do I always end up in a queue that’s slow to move because the person ahead of us is spending minutes trying to make up her mind whether to choose chicken original or spicy, with side orders or none.

Whatever hits the fan is not evenly distributed. This is also known as the law of non-proportional distribution. I am reminded of that old saying that the five fingers are brothers of the same hand but are not equal. The impact of the current pandemic on people is a clear example of this principle at work.  While I hear people say that the Covid-19 is an equal opportunity virus because it does not discriminate, what do you make of the reports that say the billionaires are getting even richer during the pandemic? Where’s the equality of suffering when you find out that the net worth of the world’s billionaires jumped by half a trillion dollars during the pandemic? Indeed, for Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Tesla’s Elon Musk, the pandemic has been good for business.

Of course, many would dismiss these Murphy’s Laws as just hogwash. I must say these are not immutable laws that are meant to control or govern our lives. Otherwise, we would go nuts. We would probably never drive a car, ride a bus or train, ride on a plane or undertake a task, knowing something will go wrong.

But they can be useful. They serve as a precautionary advice to teach us to be prepared for anything and to expect the unexpected in our lives. They are intended to keep our eyes wide open and avoid getting caught off guard. Murphy’s Law teaches you to be forward thinking in your planning process and to always have a contingency plan in place to deal with any setbacks that you will encounter.

More importantly, these principles enable us to be philosophical about the world around us. When the traffic lights turn red at the last second to stop me from going across, I just shrug it off, saying to myself: It’s OK, maybe I am being protected from something bad.

Having said that, there is an undeclared law you might want to keep in mind: If Murphy’s Law can go wrong, it will.

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