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the what's my neighbor doing phenomenon


I've noticed, in a group setting, people watch other people to determine their behavior. The classic example is the Catholic mass.

As you may know, there's lots of standing, sitting and kneeling. On a scale of one to 10, I consider my understanding of the Catholic mass a seven. So 70% of the time, I do know what's going on and I can anticipate the hymn, when we're going to kneel and when we are going to drop our envelope in the collection basket.

But, 30% of the time I'm not sure if we're going to stand or if we're going to sit back and relax as we let God's word wash over us. This is when I scan the crowd, lock onto a blue-haired lady and watch her like a hawk.

To paraphrase Ray Romano, if the lady in the front row starts doing the moonwalk, I'll do it too and just assume the Catholic Church added a new move when I wasn't looking.

Lest you think this phenomenon is simply confined to places of worship, I shall provide another example of "What's my neighbor doing, cause I'm gonna do it too".

Just the other day, I was sitting at a red light, second in line. There were two lanes, so four of us were waiting for the light to change -- two in front of me and one to my left, as I was in the right lane. I'm trying to enjoy life even though I constantly feel I am in a rush and running late. So I'm trying to create a Zen atmosphere in my head.

There I was waiting for the light to change as I was checking out the sign at the McDonald's on the adjacent corner, scanning the sidewalk, what have you. Now the light was still red, but the guy in front of me felt the crimson light was overstaying its welcome. So he started to take off, which made the guy next to him take off like they were drag racing in a black and white movie from the fifties. The guy to my left started to drive as well.

All three of them seemed to realize the light was still red at the same time. So they stopped with their headlights under the traffic light. A couple seconds later, the light actually turned green and all three of them took off only to be stopped at the next light half a mile down the street.

I just think it's weird that most drivers in the US know a red light means stop. But everyone is so impatient that one other person's decision to test the water creates a tidal wave.

Are there no rugged individualists left?

Okay, I'm going to knock myself off my own high horse with my last observation of the "What's my neighbor doing, cause I'm gonna do it too" phenomenon.

(Side note: Back in junior high when I first learned about famous writers/researches/etc. whose last names have become adjectives [Freudian, Jungian, Machiavellian to name a few] I have wished I, too, would go down in history as the same. How I would love to discover a phenomenon and have it dubbed The Cardiogirl Effect for all of eternity. Then, maybe 20 years after I die, my name will be resurrected by some writer who describes someone else as Cardiogirl-esque. But, as usual, I digress.)

As you may have realized today is Friday. In my neck of the woods, that means it is Trash Day. This is not to be confused with Wednesday, which everyone knows is Prince Spaghetti Day. (Does everyone still know that, or am I becoming an old chick whose references are feeble and archaic?)

So last night, I confidently trotted the trash to the curb, until I noticed none of my neighbors had done the same. I did the obligatory crane the neck, look to the left, look to the right and then high tailed it back into the house. I double checked with my husband, tonight is Thursday, right? Tomorrow is Trash Day, isn't it? Yes, he assured me, tomorrow is Trash Day.

I left it out there, but I wasn't as confident as I had been, seeing as no one else thinks today is Trash Day. But, I'm trying to be the rugged individualist on the block, so I left the trash there.

As of 7:33 am, though, I haven't heard the telltale sound of the garbage truck trundling down the road.

(Addendum: As if in answer to my prayers, as the digital clock turned over to 7:34 I did hear the grinding gears of the trash man's truck down the street. Thanks God. I'd much rather know I was right about trash day than have any concrete answers regarding my faith life.)


2006-12-22 at 7:36 a.m.

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