For this episode, I want to focus on the argument that Elizabeth had with Carl and Davie. To recap, Elizabeth had injured her back, so sleeping on the uneven bamboo of her tribe’s shelter was getting difficult. She didn’t tell anyone this, but her frustration secretly built up until it finally exploded. She began taking apart the shelter on her own, waking up Carl and getting angry with both him and Davie when they didn’t help her. But they didn’t even know why she was doing it and there were only a couple hours of daylight left. Elizabeth sniped with them for a long time until finally giving up on rebuilding the shelter. Kara was excited, because she’d been the obvious next target after her ally Natalia had been booted, but now Elizabeth had taken the target off her back.
I think Elizabeth’s behavior is an example of how our personal physical “shoulds” can sometimes transform into moral “shoulds” that we apply to others. Elizabeth’s “I should be sleeping in a better shelter because my back hurts” became “these people should build a better shelter”. Once that change happened in her mind, anger built up toward Carl and Davie because she saw their behavior as unjust. I think this is a common occurrence with people. I know that I’ve caught myself making this leap too. For example, “I’m very tired” can sometimes transform in my mind to “people should give each other some privacy”.
When examining the psychological research on how physical and moral shoulds are often interchangeable for infants, the psychologists Ann James Premack and David Premack have written: “The infant’s expectancy concerning reciprocation and the preservation of value may be said to have ‘moral’ content, whereas its expectancy concerning the impermeability of solid objects may be said to have a ‘physical’ content. Nevertheless, we expect the infant’s reaction to their disconfirmations to be the same.”
We often see this transfer of shoulds happening with people’s political beliefs. Maybe someone is having a difficult time at work, stressed about his family, and/or anxious about his health, and generally depressed because work, family, and health aren’t going the way that movies and songs have told him they would. His personal discomfort gradually transforms into a feeling that other people should do something to change his situation. His manager should be more competent. His kids should be safer at school. Medicine should be cheaper. All of these beliefs can then turn into a belief that the political system needs to change. The deeper the personal discomfort, the greater the feeling that change must happen. Of course, this transformation has several other potential causes (and ramifications) – I’m just focusing on the personal discomfort angle for this entry because of Elizabeth.
Sometimes the goal of this change is good for a community and sometimes not. If physical discomfort leads a person to believe there should be either greater public or private involvement in healthcare, reasonable arguments can be made for either side. On the other hand, if discomfort leads a person to believe there should be fewer Norwegian plumbers working in healthcare, then the argument probably isn’t quite so reasonable. But the basic dynamic of personal discomfort turning into public shoulds is the same for all of these beliefs. As Elizabeth found out, it can be difficult to determine whether your belief is reasonable while you are deep in the throes of it. Her inability might cost her the million dollar prize.
Problems also arise when the people in our shoulds can’t reasonably be expected to perform the shoulds under current circumstances. This is what happened with Carl and Davie. If they had been aware of Elizabeth’s physical discomfort, then yes, they probably should have helped her build a better shelter. However, since they didn’t know about her back, it might be unreasonable to expect them to rebuild a shelter that seems acceptable to them. Similarly, if your manager is aware that her decisions are causing you distress, then maybe she should try to find ways to lessen that. But if you don’t tell your manager about your distress, it’s often unreasonable to expect her to act in ways that will alleviate it.
As usual, this could go on for a book, but I need to stop for now. Just as a last geeky thing, I liked how Christian described his spearfishing attempt by using “potential energy” and “kinetic energy”. How often have those terms been used on Survivor?