How often do you do things without thinking about why you do them?
Recently, I took my 3-year-old son out for a walk. He doesn’t usually need the stroller for these little jaunts, but today he felt like riding. After awhile of relaxing and enjoying the scenery, he asked to get out and push. I obliged. He got behind the stroller and started pushing as best he could. The stroller veered to the right and careened to the left and got stuck in the ruts of the road. It was tough going.
I kept telling him it would be easier if he’d use both hands.
But, no – he insisted on using his right hand, and his right hand only.
Why? I wondered.
Then it occurred to me: he was doing it the way I had taught him.
Immitation ≠ Flattery
You see, I’m a fairly tall fellow, and pushing the stroller with both arms is uncomfortable because I have to hunch my back slightly to reach the handlebar. But I found that by standing upright and just using my right hand – positioned near the left side of the handlebar – I could control the stroller fairly easily and still walk normally.
He had seen me do this, and figured that was the way it was done…and no amount of exhortation to the contrary was going to change his little steel bear trap of a mind.
This was the way dad does it, he probably reasoned, so this is the proper way to do it.
This rationale, however, is not only the bailiwick a 3-year-old.
Doing something just because someone else did it? You’d never fall for that…
I was reminded of a (supposedly true) story I heard several years ago about a young wife who was preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. When the turkey was about to be carved, several guests were surprised to see the bag of gizzards (liver, kidneys, etc.) inside the bird. Rather than take the bag out and cook them separately, she had roasted the bag right there where it was when she bought it.
When asked why she did that, she said it was the way her mom had always cooked it. But since her guests seemed taken aback at the concept, she decided to ask her mom a few days later.
Her mom’s answer? Because that was the way her mom had always done it.
So the young wife went to her grandmother and asked again: why cook the bag of gizzards inside the turkey, instead of taking it out of the bird and cooking them separately? Her grandmother laughed and explained that it had only happened once, when the young woman’s mother was just a child – the grandmother had accidentally forgotten to take the bag out. The experience, however, had stuck with the child, and that was how she subsequently prepared every Thanksgiving turkey. Consequently, that was how her daughter, this young wife, had learned to do it. Like mother, like daughter.
Two generations of families,preparing their Thanksgiving meals based on a mistake.
Don’t accept the premise
Don’t always accept things at face value. Some things are exactly as they seem – speeding on a highway and spitting into the wind rarely yield positive results – but there are many circumstances we come across every day that could use a closer look:
Do we speak a certain way because that’s the way we were told to? Are there processes or systems where we work that seem cumbersome? Are there family issues that might be resolved by trying something different?
If you’re a voice actor, do you always position your mic the same way? Is it hanging down or standing up? Do you speak to the top, to the front, to the side, which side? Do you get so close you’re eating it, or do you back off 10 inches or more?
If you don’t like poetry, is it because you can’t understand it? Is the poet writing above his/her audience? Does the poetry use antiquated language? Or do you feel like you could write the same kind of thing? Then find poetry you can understand, find poetry that’s more contemporary, or write your own!
When confronted with an issue, ask yourself why…consider an alternative…and then ask, why not?
If I’m told a client always runs a particular type of commercial, I question why I can’t completely change it around the next time. If I’m told that something has to be done a certain way, I ask why. If I’m told, ‘that’s just the way it’s done,’ I look for answers.
Sometimes they’re good answers. Sometimes I need to come up with new ones.
Don’t settle for the answers you’re given. Don’t assume there’s only one way to do something.
And don’t roast your turkey with the giblet bag.