Predicting the consequences

My whole life, I’ve been prone to doing things that “should be obvious” how they would backfire and/or result in something bad. Some would get frustrated with me, believing me but aggravated that such a “smart kid” could do such “stupid things”. Others would disbelieve me for that reason, saying that I must want to cause them trouble and therefore I deserved to be punished harshly.

The truth is that, when I’m doing something that’s going to backfire, I often have no idea that it will. Even if I’ve done something else that backfired in a similar way already. As an example: One time, I ran out of laundry soap. Now, I was out of clothes, I hate hand-washing things, and I didn’t have time to run to the store for laundry detergent. I got the bright idea to use dish soap instead. The resulting mass of bubbles erupting from the laundry machine took me three hours to clean up and caused some damage to the laminate flooring. That my default response to shock is to giggle did not help me in trying to smooth it over with my roommates at the time.

Flash forward four years later. This time, I’ve run out of detergent for the dishwasher. I think, “Dish soap is dish soap, right?” 

Same mess, different room. Thankfully, the roommate that was home at the time found it funny and so was not offended by my shocked giggling.

Now, had I been living with my parents at the time of the Bubble Incidents, they would have exploded at me over it, assuming that I did the second one intentionally – after all, I saw what happened with the laundry machine. I should have been able to predict what would happen with the dishwasher. Especially since I’m a chemist and should therefore know that the response of foaming agents to a given amount of shear does not change depending on what device they’re in.

So, believe me when I say, at the time that I did it, it honestly did not occur to me that I would be about to cause Bubble Incident 3.0 (the first Bubble Incident happened when I was a kid. It involved 4-year-old me, a hot tub, and unfettered access to bubble bath). But this is a common theme for me: I do something intending to get Result A, not anticipating that Consequence B will result and be something I don’t want. I’m bad at predicting unwanted consequences. I think this has to do with how bad I tend to be at extrapolating from previous experience in terms of social and practical “hands on” sort of situations – which is funny because finding patterns is something I find very easy when I’m looking at reams of data, but much more difficult when I’m considering, say, what makes an acceptable substitute for butter in a recipe or how the heck I’m going to do a household repair that I’ve never done before.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is: Even if consequences seem obvious to you, they might not be to me. And if, like me, you have a hard time with this, spending thirty seconds on Google before you try that substitution that seems brilliant to you is likely to save you a lot of time, energy, and unpleasant surprises.



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