Thursday, 12 April 2012

Elephants and Superstition

Elephant Fact #1: The life span of an elephant is about 50-70 years.

Let’s get this straight: writing down my thoughts is definitely not my cup of tea. However, for some reason unfathomable to even me, I’ve made numerous attempts to do so my entire life. When I was little, I kept a huge array of diaries that only had one or two pages written in, despite the repeated promises that I’d make to my all-suffering, all-paying parents that, “I’d use it this time!”

I like to attribute this to a few possible explanations: 1) I was an inconsistent, adorable little girl, 2) I think I liked the book covers better than the book pages and 3) Nothing really interesting occurs in the life of an eight-year old, shockingly.

So why this blog? I dunno. I guess with TOK (Theory of Knowledge) and English essays popping up like magic mushrooms this year, I think it’d be good practice to write my thoughts down in a way that’s actually understandable to literate human beings. That’s right, my days of assignments covered in mud smears and crude, caveman-like handwriting are behind me!

Thing is, though, it’s been a while since I kept a diary and I have a funny feeling that this blog—while unnoticed now—won’t stay ‘private’ for long. I can hardly discuss my menstrual cycle or insecurity about my negative A-size breasts online (oops). So, I’ve decided to just post a few interesting stories/ditties about my spoiled, spoiled life that I’d care to share—at least that way, when I’m an eighty year-old grandma—a damn sexy one at that—I can just kind of point and grunt in the general direction of the computer should my grandkids want to hear a story about “the ooooolden days.”

Hell yeah. Grammy got better things to do, bitches.

Let’s start then, shall we?

I wanna talk about the title of my blog: ‘The Unlucky Elephant’. This choice of title wasn’t really due to some long-since buried fetish for pachyderms but rather because of a superstition I heard quite recently about having model figures of elephants with their trunks down drawing bad luck to its owner—things such as the death of a loved one, war, famine, the return of the 24-hour Wikipedia shutdown.

Dammit, that was not funny.

So the idea of ‘unlucky elephants’ kind of got caught in my head—it stuck to my brain the way Walburga Black’s portrait is stuck to the walls of No. 12 Grimmauld Place. At first I thought the idea was stupid. For crying out loud, it’s an elephant—what do I care if its trunk is up, down or sideways? If it’s not edible, I have no interest in it.

But then I got to thinking about the way superstitions might shape our lives—some people will avoid touching their feet at all costs with the broom when they sweep, for fear they’ll never get married (it’s your face, alright?!). Some people will outright refuse to walk on a sidewalk covered with cracks. Some people check their palms every day for hair. I myself will never whistle at night (it attracts ghosts!).

Why do people believe in these things, though? Surely, it doesn’t matter if I break a mirror, or walk under a ladder, or spill table salt, or kick a kitten. Will I really be affected?

Personally, (this sounds ridiculously like a TOK essay for a light blog post) I think I would. And because I have two years’ worth of otherwise useless Anticipated Psychology info in my head, I’m gonna explain why I think so. And you will like it.

The human mind has this irritatingly cool ability to create connections and patterns between a series of most likely unrelated events—it’s called apophenia. We do this because we like the sense of stability it gives us; the idea that we can predict the outcome of future events. For example, “If I throw this puppy into the woodchipper over there, then my mom probably will refuse to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I ask her because of the bad karma.” So it affects our actions in this manner—using our previously existing knowledge of this ‘pattern’ to predict the outcome of an action, we can decide whether or not to perform it.

But that’s not it. Sometimes, our beliefs are so strong that they actually affect the outcome rather than the action. This influence is usually referred to as the ‘placebo effect’ (heh heh, Chem kids).

Here’s an example. Say I’m an actress, and I happen to open my umbrella indoors by accident. Say I’m really, really superstitious. Say I have a big show on tonight but spend the entirety of my day worrying about the umbrella and all the bad luck it’s going to give me. Say I trip over a pebble and attribute this event to all the rotten luck the umbrella gave me. Now, say that this umbrella-inspired fear of my impending bad luck makes me worry so much I am reduced to a stuttering, mumbling wreck onstage during my performance, consequently get hideously reviewed by critics the next day and then fired from my gig because of this?

And it was all because I opened my umbrella indoors! Mother was right!

Of course, it does work the other way. Someone can feel extremely confident wearing their trusty rabbit foot necklace around their neck during a tennis match and subsequently play at the top of their game. Never mind the mutilated Bugs Bunny mascot lying nearby—s’all good, guys.

So, I guess that’s my little analysis on superstition. Jeez, I didn’t expect it to be so long. I wanted to talk about elephants, for crying out loud. Man. Next time I’ll talk about movies or something.

Have a nice day!
The Unlucky Elephant
(or Nicole, if you’re feeling especially naughty)

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