Humans are quite good at following mental cues. We usually stop on red, and go on green. We know when something looks okay to eat or when it’s gone bad. But we may be unaware of those times when our ingrained mental connections lead us astray. How accurate are the associations our minds create, and what kind of trouble can they get us in?
Picture this: it’s a typical Friday night, and you’re stumbling home from another attempt to drink yourself into oblivion – or from a tea party, it really doesn’t matter – but instead of taking the right turn four streets down, you take the left turn three streets up. In an alley darker than death, you feel rather than see foreboding shadows slinking around. You are just about to run when at the end of the alley – blocking your way to the street – appears the gangsta of all gangstas. And I don’t mean a gangster. I mean a fizzlin-your-shnizzle-eat-yo-mama-for-breakfast-got-a-record-deal-on-the-side gangSTA.
With haunting eyes, he stares you down. The surrounding shadows flee, but you’re rooted to the spot, feeling like tonight may have been your last tea party on earth. His scarred hand moves to his coat – this is it, you think – and he removes a….strawberry sunshine Booster Juice smoothie, honey and berries added.
Immediately your fears are soothed. Your heart beat slows down as you walk down the alley, brush past the health freak, and head on home. At least, this is what many psychologists would predict you’d do. No matter how strong your present state of thought, it can be changed in an instant by preconceived associations.
In this case, it happened to be that people, regardless of who they are or look like, are inherently less dangerous if they drink mashed fruit and yoghurt mixes. If your alley-way friend had pulled out a Heineken or a Coke even, your reaction would probably have been dramatically different.
The question is: does choice of drink really affect the character of a human being? Maybe, but reality tells us that a trigger-happy Tarzan is just as likely to drink carrot juice as gin and tonic. This can really fiddle with how we think; if a “gangsta” can roam scary alleys casually sipping a smoothie, what about all the other characteristics we associate with benevolence – that old lady knitting on the street bench every Sunday…what’s she hiding?
Thankfully though, our safety instincts are correct most of the time. We have a good idea of who’s dangerous and who’s not. That said, it won’t hurt being a tad more self-aware on how we judge situations and which associations are bankable.
Moral of the story? Some day, somewhere, there might exist a street crime fighter who just loves his banana kiwi smoothies. And if you find yourself in a dark alley with him, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Johanu’s column appears every Monday. Send bananas and kiwis to firstname.lastname@example.org. Johanu really likes getting mail, so get on yer keyboard and drop a line, will ya?