In 1972 Walter Mischel and his colleagues conducted an experiment at Stanford with Marshmallows and kids. The results of that test were revealing and in more ways than one and gave the world a signboard to the pathway to ruin. A signboard that springs to mind as coronavirus topples us off the growth highway!
It was a simple experiment. What does a kid left alone in a room with an inviting Marshmallow in front do? Especially so, if there was a promise for one more Marshmallow if only the kid did not eat this one for the time that the researcher stepped out of the room. Which was for 15 minutes or so. Evil, won’t you think?
Some kids went for the Marshmallow straight away. There were others that kept away for some time until temptation got better of them. Then, there were some who sang, closed their eyes with their hands and other stuff, to ensure that they stayed away from the Marshmallow. The experiment seemed to indicate that not thinking about enhanced the chances of staying away from it. (Rather than think of the joy of a better reward in the future).
The pathway to ruin
The experiment didn’t end there. There were follow up studies done with the same kids until 2011! The kids who were able to resist the Marshmallow as four-year-olds had better scores in college, had better health and were significantly more competent. The narrative around ‘delayed gratification’ is well known now.
To my mind, a close cousin of this is ‘Short Term Thinking’. That to me is a clear signboard to the pathway of ruin. The choices we make, tugged by the compelling lure of the present, blinds our collective vision for the future. At every level: individual, institutional or society!
Just look around. The evidence is there for all to see.
We prioritise our jobs over wellness. Consumption over climate. Quarterly results over long term organisational priorities. Sugar and grease over health. Add to that list the vanity projects countries indulge in: building towers and statues when bare necessities and medical facilities are beyond the reach for large swathes of the population.
The world looks like a candy store stocked with goodies for us to tune in and indulge our impulse! Except that the devil is at the cash counter and we pay with our future.
And thus we stand at the peak of Mt.Ruin! For our own collective good, we need to find a way to keep the long term in focus as the ruinous peak crumbles under its own weight.
“The History Manifesto” by David Armitage & Jo Guldi and (which is now a free download incidentally) has a passage that is neat. “..the lack of long-range perspective in our culture remains. The disease even has a name-‘short termism’. Short-termism has many practitioners but few defenders. It is now so deeply ingrained in our institutions that it has become a habit – frequently followed but rarely justified, much complained about but not often diagnosed.”
So, now what?
Guess what, COVID19 provides us with a choice. It didn’t allow us any breathing space to think of choices while riding roughshod over our old habits and regular ways of working. But, those of us who will survive its onslaught will have a choice to rebuild differently.
I hope humankind will keep the long term in mind. We have deep scars to show for all the decades of short term thinking. Here are questions for you to think of.
When all have you been most happy in the last six months? Why were you happy? What brought about this happiness?
Oftentimes this strand of questions leads people to get to what really counts! Hope you reflect on this too and see if what you are striving for matches what counts for you.
The OWL Despatch – Edition 54
This is edition No: 54 of The OWL Despatch. As always, here are five pieces that I chanced on that I think are worth your time.
Charles Einstein writes, “COVID-19 is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality. To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice.” I loved this piece that posits that when humanity is united in common cause, phenomenally rapid change is possible.
How are the poor families of Hong Kong coping? Well, by finding utility in spaces like the toilet. Read on.
Are you locked in and at home? Has boredom kept you company? Well, that may not be bad news. “If you have the good fortune to feel ennui instead of anxiety right now, do what the philosophers do: Seize the opportunity to look within Is boredom good at all?” Read on.
Fashion and social distancing. Elements of fashion that fascinate. “Only those privileged enough to avoid household chores could wear them; you needed a house with enough space to be able to comfortably move from room to room, along with a servant to help you put it on. The bigger your skirt, the higher your status.”
Here is a super question. “How’s the View From a Spinning Star?”. Well, that one question held my intrigue for long as I stood on the balcony and stared into the sky. Here is an answer.
That’s that for now. Stay safe. Stay home. Wash your hands now and don’t stay hands-off when it comes to the long term! That sure is a pathway to ruin.
Image credits Pixabay