Saturday, April 7, 2012

Magical Thinking

You who are teachers know this situation – when you remind students to study for an exam, they say, “No, I just might be lucky and know all the answers”. This is an example of magical thinking… Believing that their own good luck will see them through. All too many people practice the same kind of hope in magic or good luck and do not buy care insurance, home insurance, or health insurance … and if they are lucky they come out the winner – but if not it is a personal disaster.

Santeria exhibit in Havana Cuba

We live in a society where many have a deep belief in magic or luck. The recent massive lottery reminds me that we have a better chance of being hit by a meteorite than winning the lottery – but people continue to plunk their money down and say – “ Just maybe I’ll get lucky.” They believe in lucky number combinations, lucky stores, lucky days of the week.

There are frequent examples of magical thinking to be seen during the election season. If I support this candidate "just maybe" things will return to the way I remember them being 50 years ago. Just maybe the candidate will come up with a health care plan, banking plan, plan for Israel/Iran, Womans health care (you name it)... that will take us back to "the good old days" when life was more simple.

Santeria dancers - Cuba

My first introduction to magic thinking was the case of one of our neighbors when I was a child – I was taught from an early age that superstitions were nonsense – but our neighbor would go back home if a black cat crossed his path… Many folks said they didn’t really believe “in that stuff” but still would avoid going under a ladder, stepping on unnecessary sidewalk cracks, throw a pinch of spilled salt over their left shoulder, and not be the 13th person to sit down at a table… If questioned, they would laugh, and say, “ just to be on the safe side.” Every culture has its own forms of magic thinking – from wearing blue beads to ward off the evil eye, to following the feng sheu belief that tall trees in your yard attract evil (maybe true if the tree falls during a wind storm), that bad spirits don’t like to turn corners but in straight lines ( hence determining home design, and location of homes )

Santeria dancer in Havana Cuba

Lest we think this kind of thinking is all a thing of the past – do you know anyone who attributes personal qualities to their horoscope sign – or checks their daily readings? Astrology has been relegated to the back bench but it still part of the lives for many. Fortune teller “mystic” shops are never far away…

Santeria event in Havana Cuba

Living in this world, it’s easy to feel like we have no control over things that happen to us and the ones we love. We are fearful of negative results and hopeful for what we desire. Perhaps it is normal to try to control the outcome of events by taking certain magical actions. There are a lot of covert cases of people carrying a lucky key, card, photo, coin… something to which they attribute causing good things or preventing bad things from happening. Many of us have a bit of the compulsive in us, feeling that it is necessary to drive the same path to work, park in a certain parking lot, ring a bell, walk counterclockwise around the car before we get in, When we catch ourself doing 'the thing' we think ... "How silly – I don’t really need to do this…" But on an unconscious level we are attempting to bring order to a world that often seems chaotic.

Some people try to use prayer in a magical way – But I think prayer can be a time for growth and personal whole-making. ..Prayer can be misunderstood but it is not necessarily magical thinking… I like the concept that the only form of prayer we need to practice is the prayer to be open to the spirit of God, and prayers of thanksgiving to God… I find such prayer personally healing. I know a woman who uses prayer as a tool to tell God what needs to be done… To me this seems like trying to magically control the outcome of events by making a deal with God.

This whole train of thought came about from a New York Times article: “In defense of superstition” … Take a look…

Resident Alley San Francisco Chinatown

The very poor, the very put-down people of this earth are probably the ones who feel the randomness of chance more than others. In the side streets of inner city neighborhoods across America it is possible to find Candle shops… I had a few minutes to kill before a classroom visit recently and strolled into such a shop… It was a center for Santeria candles and potions… Read about Santeria here:…

For those with little hope, buying a magic candle to burn or a potion to rub on their body “might” attract luck or repel evil… There were candles and potions for all specific occasions – Break the power of a hex, attract love, attract money, candles for the Mayan god of the underworld… They were selling hope.

Slot Machine - Las Vegas - Designed to appeal to different interest groups

I am always struck by the difference between the happy young people that I see winning lots of money in the Gambling casino ads and the vast numbers of lonely looking folks that are to be seen in the casinos… It is a true con game – giving back to the occasional winner just enough to feel the possibility that “it might happen to me”…

Slot Machine - Las Vegas - designed to look like innocent games

Gambling casinos are a many multi million dollar industry because they skim vast amount of earnings from the money that customers “invest” in the gambling systems. Its said that the only conference in which a Las Vegas Hotel/Casino/Conference center lost money was the conference of mathematicians… they knew the rules of probability.

Random Cool Link of the week: