Magical Thinking

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Image by korafotomorgana via Flickr

A few weeks ago, on my way to work, while merging onto the highway, a soccer mommy in an SUV decided that she was going to accelerate to fill the opening I was going to use.  Not before I got there, which would have left her in the right, if still a jerk, but as I was moving into the lane.

The entire reasoning was that she could be rude and dangerous under the assumption that I would be more civilized and back down, allowing her to indulge her little fantasy about how the world works.  Luckily I saw her speed up, and had time to move out of the way.  Physics very nearly taught her an expensive lesson.

This is similar to the people who think they’ll be safe because “nothing has happened before” or think “He won’t hurt me because I;m a good person” when confronted with a mugger.

This is magical thinking. Basing assumptions of other people’s actions on nothing more than your personal hopes and biases.  The truth is,  your halo does not provide a shield.  Your luck at dodging criminals while strolling through bad neighborhoods does not circumvent statistical likelihood and your jerkface attempt to run me into a  guard rail had better be backed by the stones to deal with a wreck.

Magical thinking, wishful thinking, and baseless hope are not rational methods of running your life.  Criminals hunt for victims who wrap themselves in a smug, yet naïve, superiority.  Murphy’s Law is waiting for someone arrogant enough to think that the laws of physics don’t apply when you’re commuting.  The only rational means of predicting the behavior of others is to look at the signals they are actually producing.

Someone tentatively trying to squeeze into an opening in traffic is far more likely to submit to your passive aggression than the guy who merges with a  turn signal and the gas pedal.

Someone in the park after hours in a hoody is more likely to hurt you than the guy in running shorts.

The guy lurking in the shadows of the parking ramp, refusing to make eye contact is a more likely mugger than the suit trying to find his Lexus.

A million years of evolution have given us an incredible ability to detect danger.  A few hundred years of relative peace at the end of a few thousand years of relative civilization have not erased that ability, it has just convinced us to ignore our instincts under the mistaken assumption that all predators live in the jungle.

Fear has survival value.  Don’t allow your rational brain to override your lizard brain completely.  Let your fear keep you safe.

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