‘One whole year. You won’t go to Snobs for one whole year.’
It hurt me, but I had to take the bet, I had to back my claim.
I’m aware most people reading this blog will be familiar with Snobs, but for the uninitiated, Snobs was a pillar of Birmingham nightlife for decades. I’m not talking about the tribute act that currently holds the title. Proper Snobs. The sticky floors from decades of spillages. Strokes on repeat. A quality of alcohol that I’m sure has left scars on my liver for life. And I loved it.
My good friend knew this. The challenge was simple. I wouldn’t be able to avoid Snobs for an entire year. At some point the temptation would overcome me and I would have to go. And if I did, he’d get a free slap on me.
I’d been making the claim all night that I could get by without it, and so someone decided to call me out on my bs. Now the sensible minded might say, ‘Er just admit you were wrong and go to Snobs mate.’
For some claims I would back down. It’s easy to back down where they are clearly beyond the realms of possibility, but this was on that delicious cusp of difficult yet possible. But it was more than that, it was my reputation, it was my words I had to stick by. And so I shook on it.
And now I still hold a free slap over said friend as I gave up a year of my best clubbing years not going to a club I love. It was a tough year.
So why am I boring you with this anecdote?
A good bet is a form of direct accountability, of extreme ownership.
Too often people make unsubstantiated, wild claims and aren’t called out on them. There’s a host of reasons someone might make an outlandish claim – social posturing, ego, virtue signalling, being Owen Jones.
Whether it’s Boris promising a heap more cash for the NHS, lying on Strava about your 5k time, or simply being one of the countless examples of predicting the end of the world people can consistently profit in someway off the back of a lie, because there is no cost to them.
But a good bet can cut through all of that. It demands somebody go beyond talk. Because if talk is cheap, a bet can raise the cost to a level that makes people reconsider what they’ve said.
So what do I mean by a ‘good’ bet. A good bet sets clear terms, time limiting them, and putting a real cost for the claim you make. Something that will hurt you to be wrong, therefore crystalising whether someone is prepared to commit to the claim they are making.
The terms don’t have to be money, like the example above, a slap will do. Another pal of mine talks of an RAF tradition of ‘Gen It’ – where if you make a claim or prediction, you must put your eyebrow up as collateral. Don’t meet the claim, they’ll pin you down and whip that eyebrow off with a razor.
Historically, there was nothing worse than to be an oath-breaker:
Now one of the worst acts a [Saxon] could do was to betray his pledge, or be an oath-breaker. Doing so would make one an outcast with no home… You could be nothing worse in the Anglo-Saxon culture than an “oath-breaker.”
If you were known as someone who didn’t follow through on their word or promises, you were outcast, persona non gratia.
We live in an era of inauthenticity. Of posturing on social media. Credibility and reputation have lost almost all meaning. The cost of making outlandish claims (or outright lying) has seemingly fallen to zero as people are seemingly able to simply to get by with a lie while others forget that someone has lied or been wrong. And this is dangerous, particularly when those making the claims are powerful.
Bets can make us all stick to our ‘oaths’. Imagine if we had the courage to call people out on the bs they fling around with a good bet.
‘Boris, you say that the NHS is going to get £350 million a week when we leave the EU? Cool, let’s see you run across London Bridge naked if it doesn’t by 2022.
‘Rishi, you say you’re going to cut NHS waiting lists by 2024? Cool, Gen It. Let’s get that eyebrow off if you’re wrong.’
Put up or shut up.