The Unconscious Equalizer


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Human behavior, never ceases to confuse. Or amaze.

We have had a maid coming for over two decades to do the dishes and mop the floor. And ever since I can remember, she has had the habit of leaving the water running on full flow while washing utensils. Every time a vessel was clean, she’d turn to keep it in a drip-basket, and turn back to pick another vessel, the water continuing to flow through all that; each time. No amount of telling or warning had any effect. We rarely faced water shortage, but knew how inconvenient it could be, even if it was because of some pipeline repairs.

Apart from a storage tank, stocking water up in buckets, and wondering if it would last till the supply became normal again. Those times also helped us get a perspective about what people with more frequent water shortages experience. Just trying to imagine how people in frequently drought-hit places manage. The same behavior extended to electricity. The maid left lights and fans on as she finished mopping each room, leaving me wondering which royal family she came from. But somehow, the maid seemed the least bit fazed about the wastage of electricity or that of water. It almost seemed like a luxury she was at will to use at her will.

Then, interestingly, over the next few years, I saw a similar behavior in other people. In myself and among friends. We knew how much we earn, and what all we want to buy or save it for. But still, every once in a way, we’d go buy something expensive but more importantly unnecessary, just on impulse. Something we really didn’t need. Something that would sometimes need us to cut back on expenses till our finances got back to normal.

We do the same thing with food and drinks. We overindulge even when we are more than aware it may not be great for our health. Even with something planned the next day, we’d wake up with a horrible hangover.

More often than not, it is an imbalance in another part of our lives that makes us knowingly or unknowingly do something that would logically be counter-intuitive. A mundane or stressful job has a good section of the working population living just to make it to the next weekend. We won’t change a well-paying job even if it is eating into that limited time we have left. So we compensate by eating more of something that gives a temporary satisfaction. We buy that gadget or service just because we can. We waste food just because we can afford to.

There’s more. Know how you can sometimes be thrifty on the home front? Remembering to switch off devices that consume electricity, when no one is using them? And we are the same people who leave air-conditioners on at hotels, and also manage to jam the key-holders to keep uninterrupted power to the room, even if we are going to be out for half a day, just so we may return to a refreshingly cool (or warm) room. We somehow imagine that since we’re paying for the room, it takes care of the costs. And that since it isn’t our house, all the energy and global warming messages somehow cease to be as concerning and real.

Human behavior sometimes tends to compensate for one or more stresses in our life, by unconsciously suspending one or more good habits or rules. And usually, the ones to go out first, are the ones that we hold in lower priority.

And then, the habits of the maid didn’t seem as odd. It was possibly a financial or family-related stress that made her compensate by being wasteful (read extravagant) at homes where she worked. She however, is illiterate. We, are not.

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