I am not superstitious – knock on wood

In general, I’m a rational, evidence-based kind of woman. Logic is my friend. I mean, I’m no Spock – I act on emotion, too, and various other motivations I can’t even begin to understand. I sobbed at the movie Beaches, for god’s sake. But I don’t believe the gods will strike me down if I cross them. In fact, I don’t believe in the gods. Not rational or evidence-based enough for me.

And yet.

I am not superstitious, but I refuse to count on the future for fear that by doing so, I will influence it negatively. It’s kind of like my bizarro version of quantum physics – just the act of scrutinizing the subject will affect its behaviour. As in, if I really, really want that great apartment I applied for, I must firmly believe I won’t get it, or the act of hoping for it will cause me not to get it. And then when I do (and did), I am both jinx-free and insanely happy. If I’m granted an interview with a writer from a show I admire, I can’t tell anyone or truly believe it will happen until the interview actually occurs, for fear that anticipating it will cause it to be a cruel hoax, or the writer will change his mind or get abducted by aliens. (It wasn’t, and he didn’t.)

How do I rationalize my proclaimed lack of superstition with this some-might-call-it superstition? The obvious answer: a lot of denial. But I don’t think that’s completely it. Or it’s “it” in a more interesting way than just my irrationality about being rational.

Years ago, I saw a story on Dateline NBC by reporter John Hockenberry (who completely incidentally wrote a great book about his life, including his earlier years as a journalist, called Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence). The segment was about how our brains are hardwired to deceive ourselves. Years later, I still think of this as one of those obvious truths I hadn’t really thought of before seeing that report. The point was, if we saw things the way they really are, severe depression would probably be the only sane reaction, not a reason to inquire about Prozac. Instead, our brains paint a sunnier picture for us than reality would suggest.

You might think that believing I will be rejected by the apartment I long for, or that the writer I want to interview will be kidnapped by aliens, is perhaps my brain painting a darker (some might say crazier) picture than reality. But it’s forced, preventive pessimism to manipulate myself into seeing a sunnier outcome, a way of believing things will be worse than they should actually be, so that what actually does happen must be better than I was anticipating. Enough crushing disappointments happen unexpectedly in life. My superstition … I mean, philosophy … is a safeguard to ensure some pleasant surprises.

Hmm, maybe I could interview someone about this theory that denial is a survival mechanism. But don’t tell anyone – you might jinx it.


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