“… for just such an emergency.” Thus spoke the great Foghorn Leghorn in one of my very favorite cartoons. He was, of course, referring to his feathers, which had been blown off in yet another failed attempt to get than darned hound dog. Although I watched many cartoons as a kid, there’s something about that loud-mouthed southern baritone that really appealed to me. And while the Foghorn vs. hound dog conflicts were certainly no less violent than Bugs vs. anyone, that southern accent somehow made them seem more ‘civil.’ And, of course, it’s ‘civility’ that I like to talk about.
In all of the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons, the plot always involves the two adversaries devising and setting in motion various schemes based on their predictions of how the other would behave in a given set of circumstances. Invariably however, there were unaccounted for events that caused their schemes to blow up in their faces. And that, of course, is what makes them funny. We laugh because it reminds us of our own ill-fated attempts to overcome the unpredictability of life, in a way that’s so much less distressing than the memories of our failures.
So, to the double-edged issue at hand: Is there something wrong with wanting to be able to predict the way people will react to things? And is there also something wrong with being predictable to other people? The first side is important to me because my inability to predict the reactions of others leads me to feel that either myself, or everyone else, is insane. The second side is important because I have too often been labeled as ‘boring’ because I’m so predictable. This last was brought to my attention when someone I cared for deeply revealed that I had been the butt of a secret running joke about it.
To me, a person who thinks and acts in a rational manner should be predictable. After all, isn’t predictability part of the definition of rational? But if I’m predictable because I’m rational, what does it mean when people whom I find to be unpredictable are able to predict my reactions so easily? Call me crazy, but I think that other people deliberately behave in a manner that makes them hard to predict and that I’m so predictable because I don’t. Which brings us to the issue of spontaneity.
In today’s society, predictability equates to a lack of spontaneity and, of course, a lack of spontaneity means that you’re boring. And by the same logic, being unpredictable means that you’re interesting and/or exciting. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to take a look at the statistics on relationships. The fact is that the vast majority of relationships end in disaster precisely because people believe that they must behave in unpredictable ways to be attractive, and that those who behave in unpredictable ways are the ones they want.
Now I will admit that perhaps I’m a little obsessive in my desire to predict everything. But my ‘lack of spontaneity’ stems from a very rational fear of the unpredictable reactions of others.
Have a listen to Nothing Ever Goes As Planned by Styx for a musical metaphor for this post.
I want ice water.