I Crown You Miss Direction

My wife and I were watching season four of House Of Cards the other night (don’t worry, no spoilers here). At one point we had to pause the stream to figure out what the hell was actually going on.

There was what we knew to be true, which was different from what some of the characters believed to be true, but compounding it all was additional information that had only be suggested, but net yet confirmed.

As we sorted through the information in front of the frozen screen, it occurred to me that the writers were employing a complex implementation of the primary tool used by magicians. Although not physical “slight of hand,” nearly every plot line and twist we were trying to untangle was obscured by misdirection… and everyone was falling for it.

We humans have five primary senses and we tend to believe what they tell us at face value, but things are not always what they seem… or are they?

Back in the 1990s, I lived in a quiet little town in Northern New Jersey called Oakland. At the time I was single, and my only roommate was a half-beagle, half-sheltie called Sylvia. Because Sylvia was half-sheltie, she was a jumpy little creature, but she also had this idea that no matter where we went together it was her job to “herd” me. She was always half a step ahead with her pointy nose turned towards me, like a mobile doggie directional sign.

Because of her hard-wired herding instinct, I never had to put her on a leash. Even when we lived in Manhattan, we could walk or run and she would always stay by my side… until.

Since seventh grade, my primary form of regular exercise has been running. Where I lived in Oakland wasn’t great for running, in fact I had to cover more than half a mile before getting to the relative safety of a sidewalk.

The majority of that distance was along West Oakland Avenue, where I had to run through yards, just above the curb. It was a busy road with no shoulder at all, so I had little choice if I wanted to stay alive.

On the surface West Oakland Avenue looks like a perfectly normal place, but it has some unique characteristics.

As you can see in the picture below, high up on a hill to the left, Interstate 287 goes by. About half as high on the right are the houses whose lawns I was trespassing upon. What you can’t see from the images is the fact that this section of I-287 is both curvy and on a hill.

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Oakland NJ – Not runner friendly.

The very first time Sylvia and I went for a run along this stretch of road, we were about half way down the row of houses, when a truck on the Interstate decided to use his “Jake Brake.” A Jake Brake is an system some trucks have that uses engine compression to slow down, and although you may not be familiar with the term, you certainly know the noise. Click below to hear a Jake Brake.

Click the play button above to hear a Jake Brake

The jarring noise from the truck to our left flew over our heads and then bounced off the houses on our right causing my skittish dog to run away from the noise and right into traffic.

The jarring noise from the truck to our left flew over our heads and then bounced off the houses on our right causing my skittish dog to run away from the noise and right into traffic.

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Ricochet danger!

Fortunately, there were no cars on the road at the time but had there been she would likely have met an untimely end. Sylvia was only doing what most of us humans do every day… she sensed a threat and made a move to get away from it.

Of course in doing so, she left the safety of the road and
in fact ran right into danger.

Since she had a brain the size of a kiwi fruit, I can’t blame her for defaulting to her “flight” instinct, but we humans have more options. Before reacting to what may appear to be a straightforward sensory input, take a moment to look deeper. This same thing happened a second time, and from that day forward I carried a leash for that small segment of our regular runs. Once we turned the corner, the problem ceased to exist.

The characters in House Of Cards couldn’t see past their gut reactions, and as a result found themselves out in the middle of the busy road like Sylvia. We’d all like to believe our instincts and senses are trustworthy, but what if the source of the information is relying on such assumptions? Knowing how you’ll react to something is the magician’s most powerful tool. Don’t fall for it; resist what comes easy and look at the bigger picture in each situation. Your deeper analysis will likely confirm your initial reaction, but if it reveals something else, you’ll be the smartest person in the room.

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Think you know where the Queen is? Think again.

In the beauty pageant of life, some of us will undoubtedly be crowned “Miss Direction.” That my friends is a title we can all do without.

 

Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved

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