Anomaly

Years ago, I read a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that discusses black swan theory as it applies to financial markets and to historical events.

A black swan is an event that cannot be predicted from current or past conditions, has a significant impact, and, after the fact, is treated with a variety of rationalizations to explain it.

Last weekend, persuaded by the rainy weather, I decided to take on some serious cleaning projects; the kind that called for gloving up.

I looked under my kitchen sink, where I store my household cleaning supplies, and started pulling out yellow latex gloves, molded to fit either a right or left hand.

One by one, I found myself calling out Right…Right…Right. I had four or five right-handed gloves and absolutely NO left-handed gloves. (Believe me. I looked.)

How could this be? I bought the gloves in pairs. Maybe I lost one or two gloves from tears and they had to be thrown away.   But I couldn’t imagine the odds of having four pairs where early retirements were imposed for same hand.

Maybe this event is not significant and would not qualify as a black swan. Maybe this was just an anomaly –- but I felt compelled to try on different explanations.

I looked under the sinks in the bathrooms. I considered that gloves were separated from their mates as past household chores took my plastic bucket and diluted Pine Sol into other rooms.

I considered recent repair chores. Did I re-hinge any cabinet doors where I was more likely to get my left-hand glove caught on the hardware?

I couldn’t come up with a good explanation.

I started laughing.

OMG, I guess I’m not supposed to do any cleaning today.

Looking for excuses, this was the first thought crossed my mind.

I laid out the gloves and just looked at them. They looked so silly, like rubber chickens, stretched out next to each other.

Then I started thinking about how I would use what I had to do what I wanted to do.

I thought about doing my heavy scrubbing just with my right hand. I picked up each glove and examined them for flexibility. I looked at the possibility of wearing a right-handed glove on my left hand.

I filled my bucket a quarter way high and dropped in heavy splash of gold colored cleaner. I tried not to breathe in the fumes.

I thought about the surprise and the strangeness of the situation; how my first reaction was to look for explanations. Maybe I wanted to find a way to blame myself for the anomaly. Then I laughed at not being in control. Then I set my mind to thinking of ways to work with what had been given to me.

I probably spend too much time and energy, in all sorts of situations when something really unexpected occurs, mentally re-hashing how the situation evolved and ruminating on whether I should have done something differently.

I guess it’s human nature to seek out a certain level of predictability in life, to make plans, to seek out preferred outcomes.   A certain period of loss seems reasonable to indulge in. It takes a while to regain your bearings and get over things.

But it seems important not to be taken in, not to fall into whining or regret. It’s important to face the unexpected with humor and humility. It can be energizing to use anomalies or unexpected circumstances as motivation for invention or for adaptation.

Feeling the hot water as I wring out a sponge while wearing two right-handed gloves is no small thing.

Speak Your Mind