IF YOU ARE IN A HOLE, STOP DIGGING
Various fields of human endeavor, and societies and cultures all over the world, have witty sayings and evocative adages coined to describe the human behavioral pattern in which an individual or groups of individuals who while experiencing exponentially increasing deleterious consequences from their own actions and decisions choose to continue to repeat the behavior instead of altering course or changing direction.
To describe this type of irrational behavior, Sociologists often use the term “Irrational escalation of Commitment” or “Commitment Bias”. Economists and behavioral scientists, likewise, have a related term they use to describe the same thing. They call it “Sunk-Cost Fallacy”.
Sunk-cost fallacy is the justification of increased investment of money or effort in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment (i.e., “sunk cost”) despite abundance of evidence that suggests the future cost of continuing the behavior outweighs the anticipated benefit.
Idioms such as, “Throwing good money after bad,” “In for a penny, in for a pound,” “It’s never the wrong time to make the right decision,” and “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” are the easily relatable terms used to capture this illogical pattern of behavior in pop culture.
Healey’s first law of holes is named after Denis Winston Healey, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1974 to 1979. He is credited with the saying, “Follow the rule of holes; if you are in one, stop digging.” This British metaphor warns an individual in a precarious situation that it’s in their best interest to stop making it worse.
As I ponder over next Saturday’s presidential election in Nigeria, I can’t help but resign myself to the reality that Nigerians are incapable of resisting their basal urges for irrational escalation of commitment.
While there are a few signs here and there of a desire to leave the past behind, there isn’t enough evidence that I have seen that gives me any confidence that Nigerians will not commit a sunk-cost fallacy yet again.
Nigerians have been stuck at the bottom of a deep hole of misery and despair for quite a long time. But they just seem not to care about the first rule of holes, because they just keep digging deeper. Being the certifiably insane that they are, Nigerians keep electing miscreants and scoundrels as leaders but still expect the resulting government to make their horrid living condition better.
Impervious to the warning signs and unswayable by the flashing danger signals, Nigerians plunge headlong into anarchy and plummet further into chaos. Like a dog doomed to be lost, they are stone deaf to the hunter’s whistle.
Very often you’d hear an elderly Yoruba person say to their wayward and recalcitrant child who manifests this type of irrational behavior:
“A ngba oromo adiye lowo iku, oni a jeki oun lo aatan lo je.”
“We are trying to protect the young chicken from certain death by preventing it from falling prey to the prowling hawk, yet the chicken is kicking and screaming mad thinking we are being cruel for stopping it from going to the refuse dump to find something to eat.”
Another golden opportunity presents itself to Nigerians to alter course and change direction. In Saturday’s election, Nigerians have a chance to rewrite their own history and do right by themselves for once in their lifetime. This moment calls for clarity of purpose and boldness of action.
Nigerians are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action. The time has come for Nigerians to once and for all make the long-awaited change happen.
But seeing what I’m seeing, hearing what I’m hearing, and reading what I’m reading, I wouldn’t bother holding my breath.
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