THE BEANBAG PSYCHOLOGIST 13
Knock on Wood so the Going Gets Good!
Cause and effect. Even as you hear it, it feels like one has hit upon an infallible formula to demystify the world. Cause and effect makes one believe that everything is caused by something, and everything has a predictable consequence(s). What a comforting feeling it is to know that we can account for any phenomenon, however confusing or inexplicable it may seem at first! There is an understandable cause and effect relationship between sitting in a hot and humid classroom and low levels of concentration; between poor eating habits and low immunity and between excessive internet use for entertainment and a hopping mad parent!
Just when we think we have figured it all out, a black cat crosses your path on your way to school and somewhere over your head, a pigeon decides to relieve itself. Just as you are making faces at God above, the real culprit, the black cat comes to mind. There, we have a cause and effect explanation, albeit a skewed one, which psychologists call “magical thinking” but we are satisfied as we have hit upon a reason for why something happened.
We like having a fairly certain idea of what is going to happen in our future. But sometimes things such as loss or failure happen outside of our control and there is really no plausible explanation as to why it happened to us! When we have done everything in our power to succeed in something, we leave the eventual unfurling of outcomes to some higher power, such as when we take our “lucky” pen out to an exam, wear a “lucky” charm bracelet, put our right foot forward, etc.
Now, most of us know that there is no direct causal relationship between any luck charm and winning a game of tennis. But what keeps the faith alive, then? The effect that superstitious beliefs have on actual outcomes are mediated through our mind. The belief that if you have faith in A, then B will happen offers a lot of hope and a great level of perceived control in us. Imagine as you go through a typical school day, your right eye twitches and the promise of good luck through the day lingers like a glowing candle in your mind, boosting your spirits which allows for better performance and better interactions with peers through the day!
This feeling of hope and peace feeds further superstitious entanglements and that’s when things get dicey! If you must always wear your right shoes before your left, the odd day that you forget this routine may disrupt your peace and thereby make you perceive the happenings of the day to be more awful than they really were! You feel everything could have been better, all because of one personal routine! We need to be wary of when our beliefs begin to take control over our reason and become compulsive. The minute our beliefs start causing us anxiety, we are going to have to take a step back and reassess their utility.
Superstitious routines and beliefs are useful only insofar as they keep up our good humour, but then again, how many other alternative sources of good humour do we have other than a twitchy eye?
SANGEETHA MADHU & JYOTHI RAVICHANDRAN, THE HINDU IN SCHOOL