Saturday, February 19, 2022

Magical Thinking

I've switched jobs again. It seems like every year the company finds another problem that they think I can deal with; the most recent change is due to staff shortages caused by an aging workforce and the various societal issues we're all dealing with. We're not alone; there are “help wanted” signs everywhere, and finding people willing to work is getting harder. My new job is mostly delivering propane to customers, and it has made me aware of just how bad the “magical thinking” has gotten in our world.

Magical thinking is when people choose to be ignorant of how things work, just so long as they work. One former co-worker described it as “You don't have to know how the TV works as long as it turns on when you press the switch”. Unfortunately, our jobs required us to repair the “TV” that he was referring to, so he had a lot to learn.

There is a running joke about “First-world problems”, and I'm sure you've seen a few memes or cartoons that mention the concept: problems that most of the world doesn't have to deal with because they're too busy trying to stay alive and put food on the table. Those of us in the “first-world” have life easy and have the luxury of complaining when non-essential services fail or we are inconvenienced by the lack of what most of the world would consider a luxury. Magical thinking is a big part of those “first-world problems”.

I've run into customers that can't read an analog gauge on their propane tank. We're talking a 1.5 inch diameter dial with an arrow that points from 5-95%, not rocket science. This is in Iowa, where temperatures drop below zero every winter and most rural houses use propane as a source of heat, either as a primary source or as backup heat. Magical thinking tells them that the propane just appears in the tank and the heater just runs when they turn it on, so they don't think about it beyond that.

Magical thinking is:

  • Not caring what happens when you flush the toilet. It just “goes away”... until it doesn't. Then it becomes an emergency for someone else to fix.
  • Not knowing, or caring, where your food/fuel/water comes from.
  • Thinking that you will always be able to buy a replacement for something that wears out of breaks.
  • Thinking that everything works now, so it will always work.
  • Trusting others to make decisions that will have a major impact on your life.

I've fought against magical thinking for most of my life. I'm a curious person; I like to learn new things, and I like to teach others things that are new to them. I've been staff at a couple of military schools, a Cub Scout leader for a decade, a safety and compliance trainer at three companies, and done a bunch of impromptu teaching as the opportunities arise. Knowing how and why things work is part of my being a prepper, because it gives me the insight to see potential problems and look for ways to work around them.

 Unexpected problems are easier to deal with if you can find a way to make things work... but that requires knowing how they're supposed to work in the first place.

1 comment:

  1. I found out last winter during Operation Deep Freeze in Texas that our propane tank gauge runs about 15-20 % higher than the tank actually is <>.
    Using tank top heaters and trying to keep the well piping unfroze was.... interesting in a 75 year old uninsulated farm house.


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