August 22, 2010 2 Comments
If you haven’t read my last post about Hair, you should. But just in case you can’t be bothered, I’ll give you the even-shorter-than-a-blog-post version. I went to a jazz club and this guy made me a feel a bit hinky from the moment I sat down at the bar. I didn’t move though, despite my instinct to do so, because I didn’t want to be rude to him or trouble the bartender. Eventually he ended up copping a feel all over my back. Hinky.
After I recovered from feeling utterly violated, the incident got me to thinking about a story I heard a year or so ago from a woman I met at a film lecture. A group of us had been talking about the 1987 film The Stepfather (very hinky) and the fact that the step-daughter saves the day by following her instincts, despite the nay-saying of everyone around her. This woman then told us about how one evening she’d been out walking when she saw a man walking towards her; this guy immediately gave her a bad feeling. She thought about crossing the street to avoid him, but then thought “that’d be rude” and stayed put. The man attacked her.
What struck me is that I went through the exact same thought process at the bar two weeks ago. The guy seemed off, but I didn’t want to be rude. When I noticed that he was twitching, my super PC brain kicked in and reasoned that he had a condition of some sort; and of course it’s rude to avoid someone just because of a condition that makes them a little a different. So I ignored the fact that the twitching was making me feel weird. Then, just in case the “don’t be rude” thinking hadn’t kept me in my seat, the “I don’t want to be a bother” thinking kicked up. I didn’t want the bartender to have to do—you know—her job, and move my tab to another table. And what did I get for all my politeness and being self-policing? I got to go home crying and feeling dirty.
This propensity to not trust one’s gut instincts seems to be something that women have a harder time with than men. Most men that I know follow their instincts or at least aren’t so quick to tune them out entirely. But in Western culture, in general, we don’t tend to value instinct or intuition because we don’t think of them as something based in an intellectual process, which is a mistake. Just because reasoning isn’t part of the process it doesn’t make gut feelings necessarily unreliable.
The brain collects vast amounts of information from our experiences and determines the probability that a certain action will produce a certain outcome. This process is necessarily subconscious though because you’d get nothing done in your life if you actually thought through all of this consciously. What happens when you’re faced with a situation is that this huge databank of past experience is accessed and a conclusion is fed back to our conscious brain by way of emotion—the gut feeling. So when someone says to me “the cheque is in the mail,” there’s a reason I feel immediate distrust and irritation. Experience tells me that it’s probably not true and if I’m to take that customer at their word, it’s going to take some conscious thinking around the gut feeling I’m getting.
Now the downside of intuition is that it is based on past experience. If the new situation that you’re facing isn’t exactly like the past situations, your intuitions might steer you wrong. Past experiences aren’t always accurate predictors of the future, unfortunately. That’s why it’s still a good idea to use your intellect here and there.
When I was talking to a male friend about the situation at the bar and the whole issue of not trusting my instincts, he said that he often felt like he trusts his instincts to avoid a situation, but then it seems to be for no reason because nothing untoward ever seems to happen. I’d venture to say that nothing happens because he has removed himself from the situation before it could. I’m pretty sure this is what happened to me a couple weeks after the incident with Hair.
I was sitting on the subway, absolutely minding my own business, and a woman reeking of urine stood in front of me and just started yelling at me. I had in ear buds and never made eye contact with her when I sat down, but she chose me. This is not surprising, as I seem to be a magnet for crazy. I ignored her until we got to the next subway stop and then I got out of my seat and quickly made my way to the next subway car, hoping to shake her. When I looked out the window of the car, I saw her then heading up the stairs, out of the subway station and thought to myself “see you didn’t need to get up at all.” But then it occurred to me that perhaps the screamer had gotten off the train because I had removed myself from the situation—making her antics a whole lot less rewarding. In fact, while I’m proud of myself for having moved when everyone on the train was busy pretending that nothing untoward was actually happening, I think I should have gotten up even sooner and just found another seat until I could switch cars. I was sitting in front of this woman being subjected to the screaming for a good minute or so before I could change cars and who knows if she could have become violent in that time.
I’m one of those people who’s constantly being asked for directions, approached by mentally disturbed people and just generally accosted. I’m thinking of having an ongoing segment of my blog devoted to these incidents. Whatever happens, I’ll be doing my best to keep trusting my gut feelings.