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Overconfident ‘Rips’

January 25 , 2020

Christian Tesfaye ( is a researcher and Fortune'sOp-Ed Editor whose interests run amok in the directions of both print and audiovisual storytelling.

Holiday family gatherings, more often than not, offer a glimpse into the Ethiopian psyche, which may not be homogeneous but it has certain glaring consistencies. Just take our poor work culture, our aversion to reason, our gross incompetence in almost every field of science and our incomprehensible overconfidence.

It was around 10 years ago. I have since forgotten what specific holiday it was (I suspect either Easter or Christmas), but I clearly remember my cousin explaining proudly what “ripping” was.

Amid the eating and the drinking, conversation had veered into a new music album that was being distributed solely on CDs. The content on the disks, it was said, could not be copied and pasted onto a computer hard disk or a smartphone. This was to hinder bootlegging. But what the distributor had not considered, or hoped consumers would not figure out, was that the content could actually be “ripped.”

There are software that can do this as well as any computer with a Windows operating system (OS). The OS is fitted with Windows Media Player, an app that can copy audio content from any CD to a computer hard disk among its range of other features. It is a reminder that stealing always stays one step ahead of protection in the digital world.

My cousin had ripped the contents of the CD and finally copied it onto his phone. It was a feat he was so proud to accomplish he felt the need to explain what “ripping” was.

“Ripping forcefully takes the music from the CD and transfers it to the computer,” he said. “In fact, the same word also means ‘asigedido medifer’ in English. They took the same word and used it to imply the programme forcefully taking the content from the CD. The CD was ripped.”

My cousin, an engineering student at the time, had apparently confused the words “rip” and “rape”, and no one had noticed. They had heard his story and appeared to have come out of it fairly informed about this brave new digital era.

I could have spoken up. I could have said that those two are different words with different spellings and even different pronunciations. I could have pointed out that there was no scenario under which a tech company of Microsoft’s stature would ever give a feature in one of its apps a name with such an overwhelmingly negative connotation.

But I did not want to embarrass him in front of that many relatives, especially because he was older. I was a high schooler, and he was a civil engineering undergrad at a time when civil engineering was considered a respectable field that offered good employment opportunities.

It was, obviously, not that I was smart. It was that he was too confident to speak out loud a theory he did not give any scrutiny to. He had made an association in his mind and was proud of doing as such that he assumed it must be true. His confidence shone so bright that he was blinded to his gross lack of understanding.

Overconfidence is a national problem. It affects the old as well as the young. It is genderless, and neither does it see race, religion or ethnicity. It is an epidemic that has existed since the dawn of modern Ethiopia, and perhaps even before then.

We can best see this national scourge in the comments of almost every politician and activist. These people, on any day, are experts on the economy, history, foreign policy or the constitution. Ask them anything, and they will respond as if they have had years of expertise on the subject matter.

They never say, “I’m afraid to say that I don’t have sufficient knowledge over this matter. I would like to refer you to so-and-so for a more informed answer.”

In fact, acknowledgement of lack of expertise is considered defeat even if it can reasonably be expected that the person should not be expected to have expertise in that specific subject.

But where overconfidence reigns, expertise will be relegated to the shadows. We are giving platforms to those that can shout the loudest but do not necessarily have the best answer. Unfortunately, those with expertise are not as confident as those without it. This is perhaps because the more we know the more we figure out how complicated every single thing is and that even the best of solutions have to continually be updated.

We need to take our confidence down a notch. We need to continuously challenge our own worldview. We should be confident but not so confident that we do not take the time to check the spelling of “rape”.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 25,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1030]

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