I post often about cultural differences I noticed while moving from country to country. However, this post does not involve how different cultures perceive things, but rather a core difference that I noticed from person to person. You often hear people say things like “There are two kinds of people in the world, people who do A and people who do B”. This is one of those kinds of discussions.
While these are two extremes, and how far to either extreme you might be will depend a lot on your general anxiety levels, I find myself firmly at one extreme of these two scenarios.
Let’s say you are waiting for the results of something important in the mail. It might be exam results, the response to your college application, or test results from your doctor. You get home one day, and you find the letter in your mailbox. Do you
A. Stare at it, trying to find the courage to open it, usually asking someone else to open it for you and tell you what it says, or
B. Drop everything you’re doing and try not to tear the letter into pieces as you try to get it out of the envelope as quickly as you can?
B, definitely B.
For me, the wait is definitely the hardest part of any situation. I feel that humans have an amazing capability to adapt to the worst situations. However, as much as I can try to get used to the idea of the worst possible scenario before I know for sure, any preparation for it is always tinged with surrealism. A part of my brain knows it might not happen, and no telling myself that the worst case scenario is already here will be able to dispel that completely. I need to know, now, so that I can absorb it and move along with my life as quickly as possible. Waiting for the bad news is so much worse than actually getting it, for me.
The idea that “waiting is the worst part” is a very common one that many people agree with. Even Stephen King wrote about this idea, although in a very different context. Paraphrasing, he talked about fear, and not knowing what was behind the door was the scariest part. Once you open the door, even if it is the scariest thing you could have imagined, like a 6-foot tall cockroach, a part of you still says “well, O.K., it could have been worse, it could have been a 60-foot tall cockroach“. Many people agree that waiting sucks, and yet there are many people who react in an A scenario way. Why is this?
I can only speculate, being firmly a B scenario person. However, I think it has to do with hope, and whether or not you find hope to be a small comfort.
Not opening the letter means being able to cling to that small little bit of hope that everything is going to be fine. Opening it, and knowing the truth, will slam the door shut on that hope.
I see waiting to open the letter as a prolonging of the shitty waiting phase. For me, hope is a lie. Trying to hold on to hope when waiting is setting myself up for an even worse fall when, and if, the bad news comes. Hoping wont make my waiting time less stressful, but will definitely make the reality feel worse when it hits, the way any lie makes you feel worse afterwards. This is also why my friends and family know that they are not allowed to call or text me with the words “Hi, can we meet up this afternoon? I have something to tell you and it’s not the kind of thing that is appropriate to discuss over the phone”. Uh-uh, fuck propriety, you tell me NOW. Unless you can say that it’s exciting and happy news about you, you’re telling me right now what it’s about, or I wont be able to concentrate on a damned thing until I see you. Hope provides absolutely no comfort for me whatsoever.
I am in a waiting phase right now, and it is slowly consuming me from the inside. I have always wanted the truth, asap, rather than telling myself a pretty little lie in order to make the waiting period more bearable.
So now I open the floor to you. Do you think that hope is a comfort, or a hindrance? Am I being too harsh on the A scenario people amongst you, and is it something other than hope that causes you to freeze at the sight of the letter, rather than opening it immediately?
And finally, do you think that there is a correlation between people who find hope comforting, and religiosity? If so, is it the hopeful amongst us who are more drawn to religion, or is it religion that convinces people to feel comforted by hope?