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Be careful when you label a possibility ahead of you as unimaginable: your imagination may well be tested to destruction.

Have you ever attempted to log on to a website you rarely use, only to find that the password you entered is not accepted? And if so, did you try the same password again, only with more vigour the second time (and perhaps even a third time)? I have.

The persistent premier

I have been thinking about this kind of weird persistence as I watch British prime minister Theresa May. She has doggedly been trying to get the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (WA) she negotiated with the European Union approved by parliament, for over three months now. The plan was that it would be endorsed on 11 December 2018, well ahead of Brexit day, 29 March 2019. But after seven ministers (including the Brexit secretary himself) resigned from the government because they opposed the WA, she deferred the vote, fearing that she would be “defeated by a significant margin”. That fear was well justified. On 15 January 2019, the House of Commons voted against the agreement by 432 votes to 202. Even given the government’s wafer-thin majority — with the support of the 10 Northern-Irish Democratic Unionist Party MPs, it can only count on 326 seats of the 650 in the House — this was a truly historic defeat, the scale of which had not been seen for over 100 years.

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Brexit deferred? Unthinkable, but true (foto via youtube)

Stages of unthinkability

When we use the word unthinkable, it is often a linguistic hyperbole, an exaggeration to underscore the strength of our opinion or our belief. It is similar to wanting to avoid an undesirable outcome “at all costs”, or saying we’d “do anything” to prevent it from happening. Ands long as it is just hyperbole, or as long as there is no chance that we would actually have to take steps and literally ‘do anything’, that’s fine — strong words are part of our vocabulary.

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As long as it is unthinkable, we’re fine

Written by

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius

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