Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

Seeking Advice From Strangers

You may not like it, but rationality has an answer to your questions.

reading column
I wish I knew what it was about question-and-answer columns, advice from so-called experts, that’s so appealing to so many of us. I’ve loved to read these since I was a kid, and every periodical and site has them.

Very early in my writing career, I even wrote an astrology column for a few months when my job for a soon-to-fail magazine depended on it. It was easy to fake.

When I wrote Kylie’s Heel, I created another kind of fake Q&A column to be integrated into the narrative. This time, my protagonist, a columnist for a local weekly, responded to readers’ questions in a way that I believe few major media outlets would have published. And yet the answers weren’t far-fetched at all. They were based on psychology and science.

I’m curious: would you follow a Q&A advice columnist who gave answers like the following (excerpted from Kylie's Heel)?

Q: So many newspapers and magazines carry feng shui columns lately. Am I missing something?

A: No. Feng shui is like a religion: Perform this ritual and you’ll placate the gods that jeopardize your orderly existence. You’re supposed to have agreeable luck if you arrange your furnishings a particular way. You’ll blunt so-called negative energy by moving your stuffed bunny from here to there. Feng shui is related to astrology, and your birth date and the birth date of your house are often asked. But not the date the initial owner moved in, or the date the city approved the plans and building was begun or completed. So save your psychic energy for something more useful.

Q: My wife of 50 years died two years ago. A month after she passed, I was working on my computer and her perfume  was there all around me. When she wore that perfume, her body chemistry did something to it and the scent was heavenly. After a minute, it was gone. Two weeks later I had a vivid dream in which she and I made passionate love. A week after that, when I thought of that dream, my fingers tingled as they did whenever I touched her body. Later, no matter how much I prayed, the dreams did not come. And as much as I sprayed her perfume on her sweaters, the experience with her scent would not recur. Have I lost her forever?

A: You’re having a hard time surrendering to the finality of death, aren’t you? That’s understandable after 50 years with your dear wife. I won’t trivialize your love by pretending that she still lives within you (except as a series of memories). Right after she died, your feelings experienced a repeat of their original intensity, but as you’ve discovered, you’re losing that emotion more and more as each day passes. The tingle of your fingers on her skin and the scent of her pheromones mingling with her perfume are already gone. Eventually, as much as we crave those bodily manifestations of our connection to a lost loved one, they dim, dissipate, and must, alas, disappear.

Q: I’ve heard that groups of people praying at a distance might improve a stranger’s health. I have Crohn’s disease so I often pray to get better. Could it be that my own prayers aren’t as powerful as they need to be?

A: Don’t believe everything you read or hear. You wouldn’t know for sure if prayer were working, would you? Imagine that you had been crossing a busy street on your way to third grade, and that a car had whizzed past, nearly hitting you. But what if this car had in fact struck you, and you’d been horribly mutilated and were in great pain, and then you’d wished you’d never walked into that car’s path? How would you know if your wish had come true? After all, you weren’t struck back when you were eight. It’s as rational to be thankful for the bad things that randomly didn’t happen as for what did happen—and then didn’t—due to divine intervention. Who can tell the difference? If I were you, I’d place my faith in proven medical interventions and aim for a measure of acceptance.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.

more...

Subscribe to Creating in Flow

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?