– Our Pavlovian response to irritants.

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I find it interesting how people tend to have knee-jerk reactions to certain things. It’s kind of like a Pavlovian response we turn to in certain situations, particularly as we get older. For example, years ago when I visited my grandparents in Buffalo, New York, my grandfather would automatically go into a tirade if he heard on the radio about crime rising in the area or taxes rising, a common conundrum in New York state. This would automatically trigger a response from my grandfather who would say, “And you know who pays for that don’t you? Your grandmother and me!”

If I heard this expression once, I must have heard it a thousand times over the years as it left an indelible impression on me. So much so, when I hear something similar on the radio while I’m driving around town, I find myself saying, “And you know who pays for that don’t you?”, and I start to laugh.

I think we all have certain hot buttons which trigger some sort of an outcry, mostly things that irritate us one way or another. For example, I know a couple in my neighborhood who is quick to point out the horrible color their next door neighbor painted his house with, a ghastly dark blue. “Do you believe how horrible that looks?” I have been asked several times over the last three years since it was painted. Every time I act as if the question is new to me.

My mother has made a house in the neighborhood a pet peeve of hers. Whereas it was a handsome and well maintained house in the past, the new owners have turned it into a perpetual project whereby something is always being modified or remodeled, be it inside or out. Interestingly, they never seem to get it right, causing the house to lose its charm. Consequently, whenever we pass the house today, my mom is likely to say, “What in God’s name are they thinking of?”

There are, of course, many other push button expressions to convey our displeasure. For example, when my wife was in high school, her mother would say to her or her sisters, “You’re not going out dressed like that are you?” or “You didn’t pay money for that did you?” Women may say something catty about another woman they don’t like; e.g., “Ugh! I hate her.” Guys are a little more colorful, referring to someone as “What an idiot” or something much stronger.

Mothers are notorious for pushbutton expressions, such as, “You can plant potatoes in those ears” or “Eat your vegetables or you’ll wear them” or “You can put your eye out that way.” Another favorite is, “Stop it or you’ll go blind.”

We also see this phenomenon in the area of politics. For example, when liberals hear a reference to President Trump, they instantly respond that he is a racist, a fascist, or is xenophobic. Again, this is a Pavlovian conditioned response requiring no thinking. Ask them what he said or did to trigger their reaction and they won’t remember, but they are sure he is a a racist, a fascist, or is xenophobic, even if they do not understand what the labels mean.

I have heard these expressions so often, perhaps we should consider numbering them, thereby saving us time and effort. In a way, it reminds me of the old story where a man is sent to prison. As the newbie, he asks his cellmate if he knows any jokes to pass the time. The cellmate says, “Here in prison, we’ve heard all of the jokes a million times. So, instead of repeating them, we’ve numbered them to save time. Here watch this…”

The cellmate yells “97” from his cell which results in gales of laughter from the other prisoners.

“Wow, that’s pretty impressive,” the newbie says, “Can I try one?”

“Sure, be my guest.”

“82,” he yells out from his cell. Unfortunately, nobody responds, not even a chuckle.

“Try another,” the cellmate encourages.

“51,” he yells. Again, no response.

Frustrated the newbie tries multiple numbers, “162”, “25”, and “13.” Again, dead silence.

To which the cellmate observes, “Well I guess it goes to prove, some people can tell a joke, but others cannot.”

I’m not sure we should number our grievances this way, as I believe we take comfort in airing our displeasure to others, thereby building consensus of opinion. Besides, someone will inevitably find a way to make money off such a numbering convention, “And you know who pays for that don’t you?”

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

For Tim’s columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2019 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Listen to Tim on WZIG-FM (104.1) in Palm Harbor,FL; Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube. Click for TIM’S LIBRARY OF AUDIO CLIPS.

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