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I’ve learned not to say so out loud in a pleasant situation how nice it is doing, lest it upset Someone. For example, on a road trip, I might exclaim “How nice! So far this is going good, we’ve run into no problems!” “Don’t say that!” says Someone, clutching the wheel “You’ll jinx us!” Someone is usually the rationalist but not when reflecting out loud things are going well. Apparently this causes the gods (or demi-gods) to strike us with misfortune for my hubris. I point out bad things happen and often do so after a period of good things given the nature of things, but this is of no comfort. So I keep quiet. I also go along with the must-do-or-die ritual of black-eyed peas on 1 January.

I am not a superstitious person, preferring the sad colorless realism bad things happen for no reason and without pattern. I will put on my seatbelt to lessen the chance of motor vehicle calamity but I don’t touch the St. Christopher medal on the dashboard before driving, as my grandmother did. I happen to like black cats and I don’t stay home on 13 Friday. I don’t walk under ladders but this is common sense something might fall off on my way through.

All the same, I catch myself once in a while engaging in a superstition and realize I am not as rational as I think I am. There is a song in my iPhone I avoid playing in the morning as I remember a few times I did so and those days went badly. This is explained more readily by negative bias viz. I remember the days I listened to “Who will buy?” and those days had calamity and I don’t recall the other days it was played and things were unremarkable.

It would be a good thing if we eliminated superstitions but I fear they are so imbedded in our psyches they won’t budge. They merely transform into other types. As kids we wouldn’t step on cracks lest our mothers develop health problems, but as adults we won’t say Macbeth in the theatre.* Go to any casino and you will find people doing all sorts of shenanigans hoping to beat the house guaranteed to win in the long run,

We hold onto our superstitions because they give comfort and meaning. Behind them is the assurance there is something more to life than cold random chance. There is something called ‘luck’, given to us by a vague or distinct divine entity that is just and understandable (if we do “X” they are happy; if we do “Y” they are angry). He/it/they will provide – if we are good and do the right thing like knock on wood or wear the same socks to the auditions. Superstitions provide us with a sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation. If I do so-and-so it will influence the outcome.

Do you have any superstitions? How serious are they?

*I have a few friends who are actors. They tell me the theatre is loaded with superstitions; it is both fascinating and horrifying to hear about them. These guys are proud atheists and believe in self-determination yet become spooked bunnies their careers will be ruined if they do “A” or not do “A” prior to show.

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