Murphy’s law and everything that went wrong

Let me start off by telling you a story. Edward A. Murphy Jr was an engineer who specialized in safety issues in the 1940s. He did not believe that bad outcomes were inevitable. He did believe in understanding situations completely so that the dangerous stuff could be removed.

Ever heard the phrase “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”? Yes, that was him.

Murphy’s law is almost universally misunderstood. When he taught his students “If something can go wrong it will.” he meant that you should find everything that can go wrong and fix it so that nothing will go wrong.

Somehow the meaning of his words morphed, and totally reversed the meaning of the phrase. Murphy was trying to tell people to understand and fix problems. He never intended to suggest futility.

And to this day, we interpret this law in the literal sense: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong“.

An example of this happened with me over this last sunday.

There were two rows in the supermarket and with only one object to pay, I choose the smallest one because it was moving faster. The option looked good, but when it was almost my turn there was a technical problem in the box. I waited, watching the next line move. If i had chosen that one, I would have been taken care of before.

Impatient with the delay, I move to the other line. In a few moments it would be my turn. When I placed the product on the counter, the receipt paper ended and I couldn’t finish the purchase. At the same time, the queue I came from started working.

Something similar happens to me all the time in traffic bottling. If there are two tracks that lead to the same place, I’ll find an opening and go to the one that moves more faster. Then, of course, it begins to stagnate, while the other advances.

If I interpret these situations through the original view on Murphy’s law, I could divide the situations that happened to me in two sets. Some of them I could have evoided but some of them couldn’t.

However, the truth is that yes, I if I had evaluated the things that could go wrong by changing queues, I could have avoided the problem.


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