In Western Australia lives a species of cockroaches that can teach us, humans, a lot of stuff. What follows is a story about insects, beer bottles, assumptions and our deeply screwed ability to take proper decisions, as humans. Hence, our constant state of unhappiness.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s take it slow.
Like I told you, in Western Australia lives a particular insect. Its scientific name is Julodimorpha bakewelli, but that’s not important. What’s important is that this insect can be rather large (up to 1.5 inches for adult males) and that the females are brown, with a dimpled surface, bigger than the male and they don’t fly. Only the males flies.
Two months per year, the male is looking for females, in order to, you know, mate. It does this from up there, while flying, and trying to identify brown, dimpled shapes, in the form of Julodimorpha bakewlli female.
The latest years marked a dramatic increase in females for this insect. For whatever reason, the land seemed filled with amazing, large, beautiful cockroach females. A paradise unfolding. Millions of Julodimorpha bakewlli males indulged in what seemed to be the largest live porn festival for cockroaches.
Alas, the brown, dimpled shapes were not Julodimorpha bakewelli females. They were brown beer bottles, with the bottom part dimpled (allegedly, for a better grip while drinking the beer). And still, the male was still trying to mate those beer bottles.
Because the male made the assumption that if a shape is brown, dimpled, larger than him, it must be a female. It’s a shortcut. Something that helped the male distinguish the female from other shapes in the Australian desert. As a cockroach, it would be very time consuming to go near every brown, dimpled shape and start a mating dance, asking politely: “are you a Julodimorpha bakewelli female? If so, would you please like to mate with me?”
Not to mention that cockroaches are simply not equipped for this specific, complex behavior. They’re simple life forms and they’re living a simple life, based on very simple assumptions that are supposed to make their life easier.
The abundance of beer bottles created a real ecological problem in the Western Australia. Julodimorpha bakewelli almost went extinct and, as a last resort, Australia had to change the color of their beer bottles.
The Beautifully Sad Result Of Assumptions
Although we’d like to think about ourselves, as humans, that we are somehow superior to cockroaches, sadly, we’re really not. We may have a bigger and more divers way of understanding reality, but because our limited hardware, we’re still prisoners to assumptions.
We just make far more complex assumptions.
With far more complex disastrous results, obviously.
We make the assumption that money will be good for us. Generally speaking, you know. And we make that assumption because, during our existence, we inferred from a number of situations that money can solve some of our problems. Which may have been true. Just as the male cockroach verified a few times some large, brown and dimpled shapes and they indeed, to its satisfaction, turned out to be cockroach females.
But not all the situations in our life are the same, hence not always money will solve our problems. Not all the brown, dimpled shapes are female cockroaches, to the male deep lack of satisfaction.
The same goes with relationships. We may have constructed, from our past experiences, a special type of woman to which we feel attracted. This comparison is even closer to the Julodimorpha bakewelli ecological tragedy, by the way. For instance, we may have inferred that we like blonde women, tall, with large breasts and blue eyes. You know, our own version of “large, brown, dimpled shapes”. And we expect that each and every time we meet this type of woman, to enter a more intimate process with her and derive satisfaction from it.
Alas, how wrong are we!
I know you’ve been there, and not only once. It’s almost never how we expect it to be.
Most of the time, that woman have really no idea about our mental assumption. In a way, that woman is as still as an empty bottle of beer. She simply can’t understand what the heck we want to do with her, just as the bottle of beer can’t understand what the heck that cockroach wants to do to it (if a bottle of beer could reason, that is).
Or, even worse, she has her own assumptions about us. We, as males, may be in a certain shape and express a certain behavior that will match her assumptions about how a male should be: rich, good looking and with a good sense of humor.
And if these assumptions overlap, the two are engaging in mating, just like the cockroaches. But once the mating stage is over, the real behavior and nature of both parties is starting to take over. The assumptions were good only for a limited time. Now you discover, for instance, that the blonde is really nagging. And, maybe, a little superficial. And the blonde discovers that you really are a grumpy male, and that humor was very, very circumstantial.
And the assumption that you will both live happily ever after goes kaboom!
Just Be Present
Assumptions are a mental shortcut and they are meant to simplify our lives.
They work only on highly predictable contexts – and even there, there’s always a chance that an assumption will not work. For instance, we want to cross a road, and we see that the semaphore light is green, so we assume it’s ok to cross the road, because we did this thousands of time before. But even in this case, if we don’t take all the necessary precautions, if we don’t verify the road in both directions, a car may come without respecting its corresponding red light and we may have a very unpleasant surprise.
We’re not Julodimoprha bakewelli. We may be similar in many ways, but, fortunately, we do have a few more tools in our toolbox.
The most important of the them being mindfulness. Or the ability to stay present and evaluate our context thoroughly. That tool may prove fundamental in our quest to rid ourselves from the beautifully sad results of assumptions. I use the term “beautifully sad” in a very ironic way, of course. There’s nothing beautiful in trying to mate with a beer bottle. Or with a woman who doesn’t understand a thing from you.
So, every time we feel the urge to act on autopilot, we can stop and try as hard as we can to verify the assumption that led us there. It may be disappointing to discover that we were wrong. It may be really, really disappointing.
But in the long run, it will pay off.