#14 I Told You Sos
June 1, 2016
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To all the haters, and all the doubters, we told you we could make anything awesome.
Surprisingly Awesome’s theme music is “How We Do” by Nicholas Britell. Our ad music is by Build Buildings. Andrew Dunn mixed the episode.This episode was edited by Annie-Rose Strasser and Alex Blumberg, and produced by Rachel Ward and Kalila Holt. Lily Ames, Isabel Angel, Jacob Cruz, James Green, and Kyle McAuley provided production assistance.
We're still taking your I Told You So stories! Email us a voice memo about a time you were right, and someone else was wrong, at email@example.com. Keep it to around a minute.
ADAM MCKAY: Is Alex joining us for this?
ADAM DAVIDSON: Yes, and he doesn’t know what it is.
MCKAY: I love it, ooh, good.
ALEX BLUMBERG: This is exciting. I love it.
DAVIDSON: So McKay, as you know, what’s happening here is you and I are in the studio, waiting for Gimlet CEO, my old friend Alex Blumberg, to spring this episode’s topic on him: I Told You Sos. And I’m not saying right now that I told you that was what was happening, I’m saying that this week’s topic is the phrase “I told you so.”
MCKAY: And you say hey, remember that thing I told you, it came true. And the person goes, “Oh my god, you're right.” And it’s satisfying.
DAVIDSON: I want to try it.
BLUMBERG: I have never actually told you this. I have an I told you so for you, right? Is this what we’re talking about?
RACHEL WARD: Twist.
DAVIDSON: I have an I told you so for you. I want to hear yours though.
MCKAY: From Gimlet Media this is Surprisingly Awesome, I’m Adam McKay.
DAVIDSON: And I’m Adam Davidson. And today, we are on a quest. We are in search of a satisfying case of someone saying “I told you so.” And felt good about it, it felt good all around. And we have been talking about I told you sos for the last several weeks, and we keep coming back to this idea that shouldn’t those be a positive in our society? I mean, I saw you do something stupid, I told you it was stupid, and then later it was revealed that I was right and you were wrong, and I’m telling you that. And that, I should feel triumphant, I won, I was right. You should feel a little sad about it but also like oh good, Adam is someone I trust on this stuff. But every time we came up with a time where you or me or someone said I told you so, it was so unsatisfying. Sometimes it was outright ugly. Other times it was just meh. But it was never yay. And that is the quest that brought you and me and Alex Blumberg into the studio. So I could tell him my I told you so. But then, he turned the tables on me.
BLUMBERG: I told you there was a housing bubble.
DAVIDSON: Yeah. That is true.
BLUMBERG: As you know, as we’ve talked about many times, you and I were talking and talking and talking in 2005, 2006. You were a financial reporter for NPR. I was a producer at This American Life. We were talking about how, whether there was a housing bubble. I was reading on all these people on the internet who said there was a housing bubble.
DAVIDSON: You literally knew nothing and I thought I knew everything, right? That was the general, like...
BLUMBERG: Well, I was reading people on the internet. But yes. There were a lot of bloggers who agreed with me. Let's be clear.
DAVIDSON: At that point we were already friends for ten years. We weren’t working together or anything. You would just call me and say you’re my one friend who knows about this economics stuff. I think there's a housing bubble. Look, this is a time i'm not very proud of. So this sounds kind of pathetic. But I do remember saying, as long as they are pricing the risk accurately, I don't see how there can be a problem.
MCKAY: So here's the million dollar question. Did you, Alex, did you ever get the moment of I told you so, or is this the moment right now?
BLUMBERG: This is the moment. I have never said I was right, you were wrong.
RACHEL: What were you waiting for?
DAVIDSON: That is Surprisingly Awesome producer Rachel Ward.
BLUMBERG: Uh. I was waiting for a microphone.
MCKAY: Alright stop being a nice guy. Stop giving, we all know Davidson's a very smart guy and looks at the big picture. How does the I told you so feel right now? He just gave it up to you.
BLUMBERG: I mean, I don’t know. It wasn’t that great, honestly. There was great satisfaction in being right. With the caveat being that that satisfaction came at the expense of the world economy and the lives of millions and millions of people. So was it worth it? Yes. But just barely. But like it goes back to the secret way in that I’m actually a d***. You’re a d*** in a very public way that like is very apparent, I’m a d*** in that… And secretly I always think I’m right. So it wasn’t really… I was like of course I was right.
DAVIDSON: Now, we’ll get to MY I told you so for Blumberg later. But the thing I realized talking to Blumberg is that the I told you so, it instantly puts you into this arrogant position. You go from soothsayer, someone who can see the future, to just a know-it-all jerk. And just saying that, I’m instantly picturing in my mind not Alex Blumberg, but Ralph Nader. Ralph Nader to me is the guy who embodies that phenomenon. Yes, he predicted a lot, but he always wants us to know that he predicted a lot. In fact, he actually wrote a book and published it called “Told You So.” His whole attitude, everything about him, is I told you so.
MCKAY: Now, in case of Nader, certainly a very bold title. But if you read the book, he actually kind of did tell us so. I mean he talked about the skyrocketing cost of college education years before anyone was talking about it. He was talking about tightening control of massive corporations over our government way before anyone else. I mean, Ralph Nader, I think there’s no question, if you tally the amount of lives saved for what he did for product safety and especially car safety, you could conservatively say that he saved 250,000 lives, maybe even half a million lives, and yet we don't like the tone of his title of his book?
DAVIDSON: I know, when I think about Ralph Nader… So let me just tell you, last summer I was driving home from vacation. I was really tired. My wife Jen and our son Ash were in the car. It was raining and I slammed on the breaks right on a puddle, and we crashed into the back of a car pretty hard, like the whole front of the car crumpled. Airbags deployed. The car we crashed into was a very pregnant woman and her husband who was a cop and it was horrible. I mean Ash was screaming his head off. Jen and I were so shaken, but everybody walked away totally uninjured, totally safe, because we were wearing seatbelts, we had airbags, my son was in this great car seat. The car had those crumple zones. These are all things that we can directly attribute to Ralph Nader. I don't know if anyone would have died if Ralph Nader hadn’t been alive but certainly there's a very sizable chance that either I would have killed or injured a pregnant woman, that I would have killed or injured my own most beloved people in my life, and still, right this minute I'm thinking, “That Ralph Nader is really a schmuck.” It is such a strong feeling that even knowing all of this I still think, when I picture Ralph Nader, I don’t see my smiling son, healthy and happy, I see Ralph Nader presenting as this guy who needs you to know he is right. It instantly makes me forget all the good stuff he did and just cast him in this negative light. So the very act of saying “I told you so” takes away so much of the good feeling you might have for somebody. But I wanted to know what is it like to be that person, to be the person who without doubt did tell us so. And didn’t get enough credit. And it occurred to me McKay, you and I know exactly who we should call to ask that question.
DAVIDSON: We just need a little voice level, can you tell me what you’re doing this weekend?
STEVE EISMAN: Probably gonna play a lot of golf.
DAVIDSON: It’s gonna be hot, right, 80-something?
STEVE: I like to play, it’s good for my back to play golf in hot weather.
DAVIDSON: This is Steve Eisman, he’s a major character in the book and the movie “The Big Short.” He was played by Steve Carell in the movie. Steve is one of the people who fairly early on saw that there was deep, deep problems in the subprime mortgage industry, and he tried to warn people about it. He went to the credit rating agencies, he went to the SEC, and people didn’t listen to him. Now, like all the characters in “The Big Short,” he did make a lot of money from being right. But I will give him credit, he tried really hard to put himself in a situation where he wouldn’t make so much money, by becoming a whistleblower and making the crisis not be so immense.
DAVIDSON: Did you at any point tell anyone, “Hey, I told you so?”
STEVE: Once, and I felt kinda bad about it. I had a meeting with the CFO of Merrill Lynch in August of 2007, it was kind of a group lunch. He's telling us everything is fine, and I interject and say, listen, all your mortgage models are just wrong. And you're oblivious. And he looked at me like I was a raving lunatic. And that was the last thing I said in the meeting. After the crisis, you know, call it late 2008, Merrill was having a cocktail party in some hotel and, went up to the CFO and basically said I told you so, but I didn't feel good about it because you could just see he was so beaten up that it was just being mean. And I never did anything like that again.
DAVIDSON: How did he respond?
STEVE: He didn't really say anything. What could he say? I mean, what was deeply unsatisfying was that I was very early, I said a lot, nobody listened to me, and you know the disaster happened, and so what's satisfying about saying to someone I told you so? I mean, they should have listened to me 3 years before. But they were too busy making so much money that they weren't interested.
DAVIDSON: It's not good to be a Cassandra, to be the one who sees what's coming.
STEVE: No, it didn't end well for Cassandra.
DAVIDSON: (laughing) That's right.
DAVIDSON: I hear myself laughing knowingly as if I know everything about Cassandra in that tape, but I actually knew just about nothing about Cassandra, so I looked her up and here’s what I learned. Cassandra is a figure from Greek mythology, she appears in lots and lots of Ancient Greek literature as this person given the power of foresight, of predictions. And in most of the stories things go very, very badly for her. For example, in the Trojan War stories, Cassandra is given credit for predicting everything that would happen, including the Trojan Horse. And then after the war, being kidnapped, treated horrible, and murdered. And even though I didn’t know any of those specifics, I think that is all in the word Cassandra—when we hear the word Cassandra, we don’t think oh, that’s someone really valuable! They can see the future, what a useful thing, I wish I could see the future! We think ugh, that’s a naggy jerk. And so many I told you sos are mired in this image of someone warning about something terrible, the terrible thing happens, and the person is killed or humiliated. It’s so depressing. Everything about it’s depressing. No wonder we hate I told you sos. But McKay, you were saying there is one area of human endeavor where you’re like you know what, the stakes aren’t that high.
MCKAY: The sports world has tons of I told you sos. For some reason you can do I told you sos in sports because maybe it doesn't matter, it's kind of a little bit of a make believe world? Bill Simmons had a famous one where he said, “Don't draft that 7-footer from Ohio State Greg Oden, draft Kevin Durant, #1, Trailblazers,” and everyone's like, “You're crazy, it's a center, he's going to be really good,” and sure enough he's completely out of the league. I think he's in China and now Kevin Durant's headed towards the Hall of Fame. So, in sports it's playful enough, you'll hear it in sports talk radio and everything, you can say I told you so and you don't really care because you're talking about other grown men playing games. Nothing makes the I told you so worse than when you first praise God. Like, “All praise to God, he's the only reason we're here, but this proves all the haters and doubters wrong.” So it goes from like larger power to really petty like in a turn.
DAVIDSON: I mean the bible is loaded with, people say I'm telling you so, like people warning people about what’s coming. I came across this sentence from the King James version of the New Testament, from John 16, verses 2 to 4, where Jesus is saying, “They shall put you out of the synagogues, yea the time cometh that whosoever killeth you will think he doeth God's service.” So he’s warning the Christians that hey, because you believe in stuff, all these pagans are going to kill you, and then he says, “But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come you may remember that I told you of them.”
MCKAY: That's a biblical I told you so but he's doing the I told you so beforehand.
DAVIDSON: Right, it's like the future conditional I told you so. God is certainly one that is not shy about saying I told you so from time to time and I found an essay by a Christian named Bill Blankschaen where he goes to some length to say yes, I mean, literally the whole essay is, and we'll put a link on the website, “Yes, it's a jerk move to say I told you so, but Jesus gets to get away with it, because Jesus is doing it in a different way. He's doing it in a loving way.” You know McKay, we don’t have to go back to the Bible or Ancient Greek myths. We actually have a modern day Cassandra right here in New York City. And we decided in our quest to figure out can there be a satisfying I told you so, that we would talk to her.
MCKAY: She's a comedy legend. She's an actress. She's an outspoken activist. She also invented the lime rickey. Which is, a lot of people don’t know about her. Please welcome Janeane Garofalo.
JANEANE GAROFALO: I’m sorry Adam, it was the egg cream.
MCKAY: Oh, I’m so sorry.
JANEANE: I cannot take credit for the lime rickey. It was the egg cream and the malted. I also invented the sockhop.
JANEANE: And necking.
DAVIDSON: So Janeane Garofalo, I remember really liking her as a comedian in the 1990s. And then in the early 2000s, I was living in the Middle East as a reporter, and I wasn’t watching American cable TV news, I had sort of a vague sense of the protests against the Iraq War. But somehow I was really clear on one thing: the figure who was most associated with it, the person in all of America who was most vocal, warning us, “This is Iraq War is gonna turn out really bad for everybody concerned, was that comedian, Janeane Garofalo.
JANEANE ARCHIVAL TAPE: I think that this will be one of the worst chapters of American history if it is perceived by the Arab world that a US led invasion that was not justified, not in self-defense, goes forward…
JANEANE ARCHIVAL TAPE: ...If we wanna get Arab states and they’re churning out terrorists, there are certainly a whole lot of places we should be. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan…
INTERVIEWER ARCHIVAL TAPE: ...If you are wrong, and if the United States, and this is going to happen, goes in, liberates Iraq, people in the street, American flag, hugging our soldiers, we find all kinds of bad, bad stuff in Iraq, you going to apologize to George W. Bush?
JANEANE ARCHIVAL TAPE: I would be so willing to say I’m sorry. I hope to god that I can be made a buffoon of…
DAVIDSON: Cuz the key thing for us is not that you were against the war. Lots of people were against the war. It was the specificity with how you laid out, here is what's going to happen.
MCKAY: You actually said, we're going to get caught there for 12, 14, years, it's going to cost us 3 trillion dollars...
JANEANE: Anyone can know these things. It doesn’t make me a smart person. And there was many people saying stuff like this.
MCKAY: We’ll give you credit.
JANEANE: When I went on these shows, it's not because I felt I was good at it, it's not because I felt I was brighter than the average person. In fact, I was a straight-C student. And that’s a Gentleman’s C. That was a Gentleman’s C, I want to make that clear. I am of average intelligence I would say, and maybe even below, because I'm terrible at math and I can't spell and my penmanship is atrocious.
MCKAY: Penmanship’s the big one. If you can’t do that...
DAVIDSON: On public radio, we only have guests with really good penmanship. But it seemed to me that the entire… Much of the focus against the antiwar effort was focused at you in particular. Can you walk us through what that was like for you, how you experienced that time?
JANEANE: It’s terrible. It was horrible. I'm not one of those people that doesn't care what people think of me. I care very deeply, and I don’t just shoot off my mouth to say stuff. I don’t believe any publicity is good publicity, none of that. It was very painful. I had to hire security, there was so many death threats coming to Air America and to my apartment mailbox.
MCKAY: You were actually getting death...
JANEANE: People do. Lots of people do.
MCKAY: So you're getting like, letters in your mailbox.
DAVIDSON: Like crazy handwritten things?
JANEANE: Yes. Some without stamps. My mailman did not like me either. The only good thing that came out of it is that at that time I lost like 25 pounds out of sheer anxiety, which for a person who has battled their weight since childhood, to me that was like, wow, my pants are really big. And that did buoy me a little bit. I’m being quite honest about that. But we didn’t realize that usually those who write the death threats, make the threats, are actually the least threatening to you. Then there was bomb threats all the time. Any time I would do standup, somebody, some jerk would call in a fake bomb threat, therefore I would have to pay for extra security out of my own paycheck where I was doing standup. But during that period when people would come to show just to agitate, sometimes morning radio people would send plants in. It was like a sport because it's easy to pick on someone like me.
DAVIDSON: I’m looking at a Pew Research chart on public opinion about using military force in Iraq. And back in March of 2003, it was a wildly popular idea. More than 70% of Americans supported it, very few, about 20% were against it. And the most public member of that 22%, as we said, is Janeane Garofalo. And then, three years later or so, it’s about half of Americans against it, half for it. A few years after that, most Americans think, “That Iraq War was a huge, huge mistake.” And that’s where we are today. So, obviously, we Americans got together as a group and said wow, that war was a terrible mistake, we now see that, and Janeane Garofalo is owed a major apology. And so Americans I think you remember this, we all got together and we bought her a bouquet of flowers and we got her some of those lollipop cupcakes. And we sent her a really nice card saying, “Thanks so much for warning us, we’ll pay more attention next time.” Okay, obviously that didn’t happen. It was a lot more like Cassandra. We as a nation killed Janeane Garofalo… ‘S career.
JANEANE: Nothing will take away that I’m sorry that it didn’t work out better for all the hundreds of thousands of people who… and nothing will take away how very bad that was at the height of it. It is not pleasant to be a public whipping boy, and it make sound like I’m being self-indulgent right now. Because it’s difficult for others to remember what it was like back then. How uber faux patriotic it was. But uh, it has left me in a position though where my career has never and may never recover. From the residual idea of me.
DAVIDSON: But there was this one moment. She didn’t know it was coming, she was just at home with her boyfriend, she was watching TV, and this came on.
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL ARCHIVAL TAPE: Does Saddam Hussein have weapons of mass destruction? Janeane Garofalo did her homework, studied everything she could, she worked very hard, and she got that question right. She was smarter than I was on that question. My answer was, I don’t know if Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Janeane Garofalo was also smarter than the director of the CIA on the most important question…
MCKAY: So you hear O'Donnell say your name.
JANEANE: So I hear my name and I, at first, got that sick feeling in my stomach and started sweating. Traditionally when that happened, nothing good is going to follow that, right? You know, that panic. And then very nice things followed and I cried and I got up and phoned him.
MCKAY: And you call him, what's the phone conversation?
JANEANE: Just that you were so right, and you took a lot of abuse, and uh, on your behalf, I'm sorry for that, that you suffered. And, you know.
MCKAY: That's incredible phone call.
JANEANE: It was great.
MCKAY: For the record, can I just say, Janeane fought valiantly for us not to let her have her you told us so moment.
JANEANE: I can't believe you bullied me into taking gratitude
MCKAY: You were good.
JANEANE: No one told me this was the kind of atmosphere that I would be exposed to.
MCKAY: So here's the thing. We keep hearing these I told you sos, and the Janeane Garofalo one is pretty powerful, although it doesn't seem like she was given any room to say I told you so, and she's too much of a decent person to want to do it. So she had someone else say you told me so, and it's obviously an emotional release. I guess the reason I find this subject so fascinating and it's amazing to see that we're really not finding any completely satisfying I told you sos. They always do seem a bit petty, a bit childish, but it's this sense that like, I want, I want us all to go back and look at the faulty reasoning that led us to the horribly destructive choice. And I guess that’s the reason I found this subject interesting.
MCKAY: Listen to our advertisements that are coming up and when you come back, you're going to be so fascinated and blown away by where we take you with this subject of I told you so, you're not going to believe it. I mean Davidson and I are just radiating with confidence over how great the next part of this show is going to be.
DAVIDSON: Welcome back to Surprisingly Awesome from Gimlet Media. I'm Adam Davidson..
MCKAY: And I'm Adam McKay. Today’s topic is I told you so, and what do you know, we told you so. We told you, to all the haters and doubters, we would put headphones on, talk into microphones, edit it, and then put it out so people can hear it. How you like me now? Oh, god.
DAVIDSON: I like it.
MCKAY: That’s disgusting.
DAVIDSON: My favorite in the world I told you so is the trailer for the Justin Bieber documentary, where it says, “They said it couldn't happen. They said he'd never make it,” and I’m like, there's no one in the history of the world who they less said that about. That is ridiculous.
MCKAY: Now Lewis Lapham actually for Harper’s wrote a big piece saying how this Canadian kid, this musician, would never become big. Christopher Hitchens before he passed away wrote several pieces questioning Justin Bieber as a potential pop star, so that trailer's accurate.
DAVIDSON: Yeah, that trailer is accurate. I guess you’re right. Before the break we were talking about some heady stuff—Ancient Greek tragedy, the Iraq war, auto safety, and the financial crisis, but to remind you what led us into that intellectual journey, was that I had asked Alex Blumberg to come into a studio so that I could him so. But he immediately turned things around and he told me so. So, finally, I had my say.
DAVIDSON: So I have a different one in mind. So, you told me all this stuff. Then you convinced me to do a This American Life on the crisis—it was in early 2008, so financial professionals knew there was something big going on, but the average person did not yet really know. Again, I was fairly dismissive of the idea that we could do an interesting hour on the radio about mortgage finance. But you persuaded me and we did it. It was called “The Giant Pool of Money.” That show aired in May and in June, I met with you several times and I said to you, we got something here. You and I have cracked a code of how to talk about economics and finance on the radio in a way that engages a big audience. And I think we should run with that. And you were quite dismissive.
BLUMBERG: Oh yeah, I was like no, that will never work. I said that. I remember saying to you, “The Giant Pool of Money,” that’s like a once in a lifetime story. We’ll never be able to tell that story again. Let’s just let it be…
DAVIDSON: But then I also remember you saying, I'm not that ambitious, I really like just being a reporter/producer at This American Life. I don’t want to be a boss. I don’t want to run anything. And I was like, I think you’ll like it.
BLUMBERG: That’s right! I was like, I'm good.
RACHEL: Can you just state for the record what your job is right now?
BLUMBERG: I’m the CEO of Gimlet Media. The company that’s employing us all.
DAVIDSON: I do kind of feel like if I didn’t do that, you would not… Gimlet wouldn’t exist.
BLUMBERG: Oh yeah. No question.
DAVIDSON: So let me do it. Let me say, Alex Blumberg, I told you so.
BLUMBERG: Yeah, you did. You did. Yeah.
MCKAY: That was a good one. Now, I feel better about that one. And here's why I think: There wasn’t a horrible dark tragedy underpinning that I told you so. That was actually like, personal growth. That was a friend challenging you. It worked out well for you, so him saying I told you so now is actually good. I feel much better about that I told you so.
BLUMBERG: That’s a good I told you so, did it make you feel, is that something you’ve been wanting to say to me for a long time, and now that you’ve finally said it…
DAVIDSON: So here’s what I would say. It doesn’t feel amazing. It feels a little good. I don’t know. I feel like, it’s not like wildly… It’s just like, yeah.
DAVIDSON: This was a big moment for me, because so much about this conversation with Alex and how I am personally responsible for everything good in his life as well as the fifty people who work for Gimlet Media, feels good. Except for one crucial, crucial thing that ruins the whole thing. I’m the one who had to ask for him to realize that. And I am now even worse, asking all of you to realize that. And that ruins it, it really, genuinely feels ugly and embarrassing and turns a situation that made me feel kind of like, pleasant, and proud, into this like petty, grubby, ugly part of my soul. And McKay, you were telling me well, hey pal, we all have that petty, grubby part of our soul. In fact, you told me, you have a witness to corroborate your own pettiness.
COLIN QUINN: Hello
COLIN: What’s up, Adam?
DAVIDSON: This of course is Colin Quinn, he was on Saturday Night Live back when Adam McKay was a writer there, eventually head writer. He’s now a celebrated standup comedian.
MCKAY: Quinn, do you ever do this, do you ever carry around sweaty little pathetic moments that you're like… SNL, Saturday Night Live is a great place for it by the way. And I'll sort of like have these memories, like I remember telling, this is so pathetic. I remember telling Lorne Michaels like, there's this band that everyone's talking about called The White Stripes, you should have em on, you'd be the first show to have them on, you would look so cool and Lorne was like, “Oh Adam, let it go.” And then like you say it out loud, and you sound like the most, why would Lorne care? Like first off you're talking about the band, it’s not even like the main focus of the show, it’s some 28-year-old kid in his office. Meanwhile the guy's like trying to like merge with some other entertainment company and make like 500 million dollars and I'm in his office telling him about a sort of retro rockabilly group. But yet in the deep recesses of my mind I'm like, “He should have listened to me.” There’s little warm thing inside like, I secretly know, I'm the one...
COLIN: Yeah, you’re like, if you ever run into Meg White…
DAVIDSON: Meg White is the eponymous drummer for the White Stripes.
COLIN: You're going to be like, “Hey, Meg, I have a funny story to tell you.” And she'll be like, “Oh.” She'll be half interested. And halfway through you'll realize it's not that good of a story, it's only personal to you.
COLIN: And you’ll be like, no, this was like, you guys weren't that big yet, I mean you were great, I mean but, and you'll start stumbling, you’ll go no no, you guys were great. I'm saying Lorne didn't know who you were.
MCKAY: It’s really embarrassing to admit, I've probably just through talking about Saturday Night Live, told that story ten times. Not as a story, but as a like yeah, it was frustrating, sometimes there'd be cool acts you'd want to get on, and I would do it like it was off-handed but secretly the message of that story is, I knew, no one else knew. Meanwhile by the way, 3.9 million people knew at that point that The White Stripes were awesome. Like tons of people knew.
COLIN: Sometimes people get I told you sos over obvious ones. I like people that say things like, “Yeah, to me, Steph Curry is one of the best, you know, I always thought he was good,” it's like really? You mean the superstar? Or like when people go, “DeNiro, I don't like his last movie, he’s starting to, I told you he wasn't doing that great.” It's like, if you said that after Goodfellas I'd believe you. Like some people's I told you sos come at a late time.
DAVIDSON: there's also the retroactive I told you so. Like oh, if I was in Germany in the 20s, I woulda killed Hitler. Or…
COLIN: Right. Instead we all would have like, yeah.
DAVIDSON: Yeah, we would have been…
COLIN: Standing on guard towers.
COLIN: Going hey, you know what? Guy's doing his thing, you know, God bless him. Well, I'll tell you exactly what the solution would be. If every time you said something, any time anyone made a prediction, they had to bet on it. Like financially, you had to lay out money.
DAVIDSON: And say like, on this date we're gonna check. Like in 2028, we're gonna have a check in, did Tiger Woods ever win another golf tournament.
COLIN: Exactly, then it's like you go to the window, the racetrack, and instead of saying I told you so, you collect like 800 bucks, you don't have to say I told you so, because you won 800 bucks, and everybody else lost.
DAVIDSON: I love this idea.
COLIN: It would be great.
DAVIDSON: LIke I think there could be an app.
COLIN: And you put everybody's win/loss record online, so that everyone can see, so whoever you're talking to, you're like are you kidding me? Why would anyone listen to this person, you lost like 80,000 dollars, you know. It’s like, I don't mind being wrong a lot, but what is really gonna put me to an early grave is the people that are wrong but don't know they're wrong. I think that's ultimately, all I want is vengeance on them before I leave the planet. It’s really not me. It's those people that don't know when they're wrong that's really going to be the death of me.
DAVIDSON: And you want…
COLIN: I want reeducation camps but you know, I'll take statistics put online. I'll take them being publicly shamed.
DAVIDSON: So I've actually been with you when you saw Lorne Michaels, you did not mention hey, Lorne, I told you so.
MCKAY: Oh god no, god no, I would come off like the biggest jerk ever. And I'm sure he has no memory of the exchange.
DAVIDSON: So what do you do when you're like, but I did, I did, I told you so? How do I communicate that? And that is where I feel stuck, is I think you don't get to say it. In fact, it stopped feeling for me like about economics or politics or history, it started to feel about psychology. Like, just what, what is the feeling, what is the emotion of I told you so? And Kalila, our producer, reached out and found a psychologist who's thought a lot about this.
MEG JAY: My name is Meg Jay and I'm a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia.
DAVIDSON: Do you want us to call you Dr. Jay?
MCKAY: No question I go with Dr. Jay if I'm you, every single opportunity ever.
MEG: Well, that's what all the basketball fans say. As soon as I saw the topic that you wanted to talk about, I told you so, I immediately thought like your show, that's surprisingly interesting. That people don't really give as much thought to that as you would expect that they would. So I actually dug around a little bit in the research, and there's practically nothing on I told you so, or the I told you so phenomen. But you know, if you think about it, obviously it's a form of gloating. It's about saying I enjoy being right, I enjoy being early, and you know some people enjoy that and some people don't. It can feel lonely, it can feel frustrating, it can feel tragic. You know, so I'm a clinical psychologist, I see a lot of people in a therapy situation, and when I find myself thinking I told you so, I get no pleasure from that whatsoever. I restrain myself from actually saying it, but if I find myself thinking it, what I'm thinking is, something's gone wrong. That someone has done something AMA, or against my advice, in that situation. And you could think of that as that's their failure to listen to me, but I'm in the helping profession and I have a job to do, so I also think of it as, that's my failure to make myself heard. That something went wrong there, and it made me think of Bob Ebeling who was the engineer who predicted the Challenger disaster. And he, I think up to the very end of his life, lived with this horrible sense of guilt that he was right about that. And that people didn't listen.
DAVIDSON: And you know I, it's funny , we knew we were calling you as an expert on the human psychology but it hadn't occurred to me that as a therapist, like all therapists I'm imagining, you're sitting in rooms with people all the time where you must have the feeling, like, “No, don't keep cheating on your spouse.”
DAVIDSON: You must be in a state of I told you so just every, every day.
MEG: Um, well, let's just put it this way. Patient compliance is every physician's number one problem, which means it doesn't matter what kind of doctor you are, it is very common that clients or patients don't take the medicine you prescribe or they don't quit drinking or they don't exercise or they don't stop sleeping with Bob.
DAVIDSON: Although to be fair, Bob is a great guy.
MEG: Bob is a great guy, but he has his downsides. So it is, if you do find yourself there, but I think, I mean of course there's a bit of me that says you didn't listen, but I'm also looking at myself of, what's going wrong here that I'm not getting through to you?
DAVIDSON: You know, I think this will be more helpful if you just go into really specific details with names about some of your patients... So when I think about my 4-year-old son, he's constantly doing stuff wrong cuz he's 4. And you know, I really try to let him discover stuff on his own but there's times where I'll be like, no, it really is better if you hold the fork this way.
MEG: Not in your eye, right.
DAVIDSON: Yeah, and he'll say, “I'm doing it my way, Dada.” And I feel like the best version of me, the most loving, generous, good version of me is the one that says okay, yes, I can delight in you discovering this, et cetera.
DAVIDSON: And should that be my goal in life? Should I as a human being try to get in a place where I don't feel the need to say I told you so to people?
MEG: Well, I can't tell you how many times I have worked with someone over a certain issue trying to get them to see it or do it in a way that I think is going to be beneficial to them, and then they do it and they act like, you know, this was absolutely came from them, I'd never said it, and I zip it and think, “Good for them.”
DAVIDSON: We're all a little narcissistic, right, like we all have that idea…
MEG: Absolutely, oh absolutely, and that's called healthy narcissism. You know, healthy narcissism is I'm awesome, I'm great at this, I did well on this test, I'm doing a great job in my career. And without that I think it would be hard to function. But um, you know, where you see sort of compulsive narcissism, people just can't stop, sort of needing to let people know or needing to hear it from other people, they actually don't have healthy narcissism. They don't have that sense of yeah, I'm good, I'm competent, I'm more secure than insecure.
DAVIDSON: But then there's like the pose of I told you so, where which is, it's Donald Trump, it seems to be almost all of cable news and much of the punditocracy in America, where it's just pose, it's all about aserting things aggressively… Anytime that you said anything that was remotely accurate you take a thousand percent credit for, and then if you ever said anything wrong you take zero responsibility for…
MEG: Right, I see what you're saying.
DAVIDSON: So when we want to say I told you so, is that our… That seems to be a bit of that unhealthy narcissism peeking its head out?
MEG: Yeah I mean I think it is this need… It's not good enough that I know I was right, you have to know I was right. And better off, you have to admit it and tell me and you know, let other people know too, then you're really crossing the line into something else.
DAVIDSON: I think our big takeaway is I told you so, it's natural, we all want to be able to say it, don't feel too bad, but it doesn't come from the best part of yourself.
DAVIDSON: And it's best to not ever say I told you so.
MEG: Right. And I told you so, I told you that was the situation.
DAVIDSON: You did.
MCKAY: So that’s it, I told you so’s just inherently are petty and selfish and punitive and…
MCKAY: So you know, we go into these shows and we pick topics that are really difficult. We did an episode on mold, we did one on cement, we did one on adhesives, and we are, we're not network television. This isn't a studio movie. We love the idea that sometimes we get to the end and something's not surprisingly awesome, and it seems like with I told you sos, they are narcissistic and petty and not gracious and most of all, and this was the part that disappointed me, not really helpful.
DAVIDSON: Not surprisingly awesome.
MCKAY: Officially, I told you sos are not surprisingly awesome.
DAVIDSON: So Adam, I was fully with you on this, and then at the very last moment—and I have not had a chance to talk to you about this—Kalila said, “I think I found a surprisingly awesome I told you so.”
MCKAY: This is really true?
DAVIDSON: Yes. This is really true. Just yesterday we found a story which was I told you so and it was surprisingly awesome. It features George Ackles. He’s now 39, he’s a manager for Apple Retail, but this story takes places 31 years ago. He was eight years old, he’s got this buddy Ryan over for a sleepover.
GEORGE ACKLES: So Ryan had my bed and I was sleeping just next to him on a sleeping bag on the floor. And all was well until about, well let’s say, 2am, it was the middle of the night and I wake to this just excruciating pain in my ear. It was one of the most intense sensations I think I’d experienced in that point of my life. Ran to my parents’ room, which was down the hall upstairs, and just started screaming bloody murder that there was something in my ear. And I will confess that I was something of a dramatic child, my dad and the whole lineage of my father's side is all actors, and so I think they thought this was me being perhaps a tad melodramatic.
DAVIDSON: Our dramatic little boy is… I happen to have a dramatic little boy, a 4-year-old. Him screaming in the middle of the night, we would just assume oh, he dropped a toy.
GEORGE: Yeah, exactly, my parents assumed much the same, but after, they could tell I was legitimately in some distress. So my dad packed me into the station wagon, and we get into the emergency room and it's kind of the typical story of midnight emergency care, he tries to get us in, we're in the waiting room, and I'm just continuing to cry from the discomfort of this. There would be periods of intense pain, and then there would be sort of lulls in between, and it was the oddest thing and I started to kind of put together that I think there’s something alive in my ear.
DAVIDSON: Whoa? Really?
GEORGE: I started to realize that what is happening is it's idle, whatever it is, is idle and then it gets jostled or decides to move around. And I could feel, it was that movement that hurt, oh yeah and even now, kinda gives me the heebie jeebies just to talk about it. Finally get into the doctor's office, the examination room, and doctor comes in moments later, my dad explains, you know through my cries, that I've got an ear infection and there seems to be something with my ear that's distressing. The doctor says oh yeah, I'm sure just given the age and everything else, probably just an ear infection, breaks out you know the scope to look in my ear. And you know, has me tilt my head over, lights the thing up, looks in my ear, and as he’s examining in my ear, he exclaimed, he said, "oh sh**!" He actually dropped the scope and recoiled in horror at the fact that it had moved I guess really dramatically and I screamed at the same time because of the discomfort of the thing moving around and...
DAVIDSON: Rachel Ward, our producer is… Are you crying? This is the most distressed I've ever seen you. And by the way I've seen you pretty distressed
RACHEL: It's so upsetting. It is so upsetting.
GEORGE: So you can imagine my state of mind at the time. They break out, I imagine it was mineral oil or something similar, and pour a bunch of this into my ear, and that of course, now the thing is just on absolute high alert and I'm in agony with this thing that's clawing around on the inside of my ear canal. You know, after a few moments of having the oil in, doctor has me tilt my head back the other way and kind of similar to you know, when you get water stuck in your ear, he’s kind of lightly tapping on the opposite side of my skull, and this thing comes out and it's dead or dying at this point. But massive, just massive.
DAVIDSON: Like how big?
GEORGE: It was a black beetle, kind of nondescript but it had to have been at least three quarters of an inch in length. Maybe even an inch, it was huge and, it couldn’t have turned around, I know that, so I have to imagine although nobody corroborated this, but I'm sure the thing was knocking on my ear drum. Trying to get further in because it couldn't back out. Apparently.
DAVIDSON: So it really was basically trying to eat your brain.
GEORGE: Yeah essentially, that's what we're getting at here.
DAVIDSON: Do you say to your dad, I told you so at any point?
GEORGE: I know that happened. Probably many, many times, although I specifically remember saying it at the hospital in the emergency room. My dad, in his attempts to calm me down, had flatly said, "No, there's nothing alive that’s in your ear.” So soon as that beetle was out of my ear, as soon as the pain had subsided, I know well enough to know that multiple times, I told you so, I told you there was a bug in my ear.
DAVIDSON: Does it really feel like it changed your relationship with your parents, that you did have more credibility?
GEORGE: I think it did, it was, I felt much more of an equal from that time forward in the sense that you know, they treated me in many ways like an adult member of the family. Not entirely, I don't mean to say that I had equal share in all family decisions or anything like that, but I do think that there was a certain respect maybe. I think that they started to understand that I can have, you know, real experiences and make real assessments about what's happening to me and what's happening around me, so.
MCKAY: I feel like I'm almost going to tear up. Like that is truly an incredible, because it's horrifying obviously, it's scary, but that resolution is so beautiful. And it's kind of, that’s what I was hoping for with I told you so. To hear a story like this, to hear a child, and god bless his parents that they were big enough to take that in rather than dismiss it, that they were healthy enough. Wow, that is a truly awesome I told you so.
DAVIDSON: An 8-year-old should be a little narcissistic, and an 8-year-old should… It's a transitional age, it's appropriate at that moment to mark it. I think as grownups, maybe we just give up the right to say I told you so, we have to find other ways to communicate warning.
MCKAY: But I think when, you're really talking about power dynamics. You're talking about low status, very little power, an 8-year-old being dismissed. And I do think there are cases in our modern world where there are groups that are completely marginalized, that there are times where you wish these people could say I told you so and the powers that be would go, “You know what, you did and we're going to change.” I mean, that's not happening, that's a little bit of a fantasy world, but hearing that story made me realize why this topic was interesting to begin with.
DAVIDSON: I was thinking of it entirely in terms of, this kid was eight and it was his dad. But you're saying it's more generalizable. That if it's the person with less power saying it, and the person with more power actually can take it in. Those are the conditions where it can actually work.
MCKAY: It's also such a beautiful, strange far-off story. It almost feels like a dream. Wow. That is, I gotta say, Davidson you surprised me one other time, which was the end of Mold, the episode on mold, you truly surprised me. If anyone hasn't heard the episode check it out because it is a great ending. And you got me with this one. I really did think we didn't have it and that is an amazing story.
MCKAY: Surprisingly Awesome’s theme song is by Nicholas Britell. Our ad music is by Build Buildings. We were edited this week by Annie-Rose Strasser and Alex Blumberg. We were produced by the great and magnificent Kalila Holt and Rachel Ward, who’s also great and magnificent by the way.
DAVIDSON: Lily Ames, Isabel Angel, Jacob Cruz, James Green, and Kyle McAuley provided production assistance.
MCKAY: Andrew Dunn mixed the episode.
DAVIDSON: And thanks to all of you, who sent us your I Told You So stories—the inbox is still open if you want to send us a voice memo about a time you were right and someone else was wrong. Keep it to around a minute.
MCKAY: You can also tweet us @surprisingshow, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re on Facebook. And our Tumblr is TrueSharkAttackStories.tumblr.com. I dare you not to click on True Shark Attack Stories. You can’t physically resist. Surprisingly Awesome is a production of Gimlet Media. Gimlet Media, founded by Alex Blumberg. Adam Davidson told him so.
DAVIDSON: Of all the I told you sos we’ve gotten so far from our listeners, here’s our favorite.
ANONYMOUS: I told you if you didn’t pull over I was gonna sh** my pants.
MCKAY: That's a fastball when it comes to I told you sos. You know what the best part of it is? It excuses the guy who crapped his pants.
DAVIDSON: Although I wouldn't call it satisfying. Like if for our search is for a truly satisfying one, that one still like you're sitting there with crap in your pants.
MCKAY: Yeah that’s true, and actually a perfect metaphor for I told you so. Cuz in the case of my pathetic White Stripes story, I still had to stand on the floor of SNL and watch Backstreet Boys perform, which I think musically is the equivalent of crapping your own pants.