Siege Diaries 5/22/2020


Magical thinking.

“Magical thinking is defined as believing that one event happens as a result of another without a plausible link of causation.”, says Alex Lickerman in Psychology Today, then clarifies, “Perhaps, then, a more nuanced definition of magical thinking would be believing in things more strongly than either evidence or experience justifies.”

There are very, very few people who do not at some level indulge in a bit of magical thinking. I, for instance, have some superstitious rituals – while pumping gas, I always try to have the total end in the number 5 (unless it’s an even dollar amount.)  What keeps it from becoming truly magical thinking, however, is that I do not associate truly bad consequences with failing to do so, even though I consider it something I do “for luck.”

I’m kind of indulging in it right now, in fact.  As I write this, I’m listening to Shostakovich. I’ve tried to listen to at least one of his works every day for close to two years now.  Why’?  It’s a ritual that brings me comfort.  (It’s amazing music, too, and particularly now, I need that in my life).  But if I miss a day?  I miss a day.  I don’t believe that bad things happen if that occurs.

Still, I found myself confronting my own magical thought patterns a few weeks ago. My husband wanted to research future vacations to consider once this is all over, and I found myself thinking that doing that was “bad juju.”  As if my thinking about places I wanted to visit during a pandemic would ensure I’d never get there.

Magical thinking often gives people the illusion of control over an unpredictable world.  It’s no surprise that it’s everywhere right now.  And right now, the place I’m seeing it most among people who have tried very hard to do the right things during the phase of limiting physical contact is as we’re now grappling with this ten weeks in–and starting to see some signs that maybe things will ease a bit.   There is this sense of “I’ve been good so far–and because of that–because I did the right thing–maybe I can relax a bit and it will pass me by.”

This is wholly apart from the more severe forms of magical thinking currently going around, but it’s an issue nonetheless.  And it’s so easy to go down that path.  I’ve even had the odd thought in that direction–the idea that I should be “rewarded”  by the universe somehow for following all the “rules.”

The rules are human.  The universe’s rules?  Viruses gonna virus.

But my human brain really does want to know it’s going to be all right.

I don’t know that it will.  But I have to make peace with that uncertainty by controlling what I can control, and that means talking back to those magical thoughts with other thoughts based in fact, and managing the risk with evidence, not woo-woo I want to believe.

On this day in history in 1939, Hitler and Mussolini signed their ‘Pact of Steel.”  This was the first step towards formation of the Axis, which would culminate in September, 1940 with the signing of the Tripartite Treaty with Japan.  But before that happened, Germany signed its nonagression pact with the Soviet Union in August, 1939, not long before war was declared–and for close to two years, it looked like the major dictatorships in Europe were all on the same side.