how to tell fortunes and read horoscopes and be always right

When things got dull at one of Himself's business events - no doubt you will be shocked to learn that this happened with astounding frequency - I would entertain myself. Sometimes I would hone in on the very oldest female present and ask her to tell me about her graduation dress. Sometimes I would ask women who'd spent their lives building their husbands' careers, "What's the worst place you ever lived?" Sometimes I'd ask - man or woman, whoever I was stuck sitting next to - "Does it sometimes surprise you how your life turned out?" After a glass or two of something nice, these kinds of questions sound kind and interested, not personal or prying, and quite often lead to conversations that you're glad to have had.

But all too often, our corporate/charitable/fraternal hosts didn't spend enough on potables, the minute hand moved sloooowwwwwly... and at these times I would say to the woman sitting closest to me, "I'm sensing that you have a unique identity. May I?" Following which, I'd pick up her hand, stare at the palm, and say something like "huh, not as bad as you're thinking." 

Well, who doesn't want to hear that? It's certainly more believable than telling someone that Publishers' Clearing House will be at the door tomorrow. Even the most over-privileged, over-educated among us would be curious enough to ask "Um, can you, ER, see anything else?"

Of course I could. I would see someone in your life or approaching it who wishes he could live up to the person he really believes you are. Cloudily, natch.

I would see clouds, but also I would see resilience.

I would see a lack of appreciation that my subject could rise above.

I would see old (but nameless) hurts that my subject was almost ready to let go.

People underestimate you, I would say sadly.

These thing are true of all of us. I would never see a sudden great love or a miraculous recovery.

There are good things, I'd say, but maybe not right away. 

There is a great likelihood that any man over 70 who still has a short haircut and good posture will respond to "You are stronger than you give yourself credit for."

The warm response I received to all of this - "Your lady is charming!" "What a fascinating woman!" 

Now here is where I admit that due to some episodes in an otherwise thoroughly delightful and misspent youth, I have a built-in Mean Fratboy Detector, and quite often I would amuse myself by saying to such, "huh, are you due for a checkup?"

The effects of this kind of prognostication are called the "Barnum effect." Research shows that many people tend to accept very general or vague characterizations of themselves and take them to be accurate. A good example of this can be seen when people believe what is said about them in psychometric tests, personality profiles, astrological predictions, and so on. If, on a long train ride, you've picked up a discarded newspaper or magazine, and read your horoscope or your numerology for the week, better than five to seven that you've recognized a characteristic that you believe you have or a situation then pending in your life. C'mon, who isn't waiting for that opportunity/ man/ woman/ decision/ event? I was relieved, actually, to discover the Barnum Effect, because the idea that some dingbat writing a column knows more about my life and fascinating personality than I do was unappetizing.
The phenomenon is named after P.T. Barnum, who made lots of money from his keen analysis of what people are likely to believe. Of course, the more the "reader" knows about the subject, the more credible the "reading" will be. If you tell a man who is a partner or a principal in a private bank, venture capital firm, insurance agency, law firm, financial services firm, etc., that his partners don't appreciate his true contribution, you have a 95% chance - not of being right, but that your subject thinks you have powers and may even know something. If you tell a woman who's in a relationship other than conventional marriage that someone close to her looks like an adult but is not really grown up inside, oh, will you get her attention.

No, I don't do parties. This is for my own selfish amusement. Sometimes my sister, if present, listens in. She used to do it, too, but stopped when she stepped over our self-imposed line and actually made a prediction of something specific. Which came true. No, thank you.

Some of you are wondering (yes, I can "see" it) how Himself behaves at my Events of Professional Obligation. Sadly, the Double Standard still stalks the earth. As long as your male Plus One looks like he'll remain vertical for the balance of the evening, doesn't burst into song, doesn't smell funny, and is sufficiently presentable that people don't fear he'll try to borrow money, the response will be "Great guy," or "Think we could refer the xxxxx to his company?"

17 comments:

  1. Okay - too funny! Right now you would read: you will go on a trip somewhere in the next year, you are sometimes confused and I see you losing a little weight! You must be the belle of the bal! I am like you - people want to talk about themselves; you just have to start asking a couple of questions and they will go on forever!

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    1. Hi, Wendy, I actually love asking people how they met their spouse/other. You almost always get a terrific story!

      mmmmm, I wish I could see me losing some weight.

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    2. Wear well I will see that for you!

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  2. Hilarious! You definitely know how to keep things interesting! :)

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  3. still trying to "see" me losing some weight...

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  4. I was laughing by end of title here! This is a true talent you have, I think, and helps put people at ease. Someday I want to have my Tarot cards done. I really want to do genetic analysis-- MLane feels this is madness, but I love the idea.

    The boyz are never as enthusiastic abt our events,are they? I love to go to his, and I find out the most amazing stuff.

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    1. well, I don't know about talent, it's just a goofy way to fight off boredom during interminable evenings with strangers...

      and even though I don't believe in any of this stuff, I find tarot cards scary.

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  5. Someone once tried to read my palm and said, "I can't see your life line." I replied, "That's because my life is none of your business." It was a pickup line though, so the response was apropos.

    Have you read the cold reading book or is this something you've picked up yourself along the way?

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    1. hi, xoxo, I know nothing about "reading" and couldn't find a lifeline if I tried. This is just goofing around.

      I love your response to the lifeline line!

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  6. Listening - which is really what these readings are about, is a sadly underrated skill. And I say that because I am an incorrigible listener. An eavesdropper even. (I don't use it, but I cannot stop myself from listening - on the bus, in restaurants, shopping centres...)

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    1. hi, Elephant's Child, idiots talking on mobile phones have taken a lot of the fun out of "listening in" for me.

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  7. Hi-larious! I love this one, WFF!!

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    1. Thanks, Gigi, glad it "spoke" to you!

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  8. So you're the person people find to be the most interesting person because you get them to talk about themselves!

    I'd often read horoscopes of other signs to see if they could apply to me. ;)

    Great post, good ideas.

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    1. Thanks, tiffany rose, all 12 horoscopes on any given day could apply to me. Unless they say it's a good day to house-clean.

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  9. Hilarious - those people should be paying to sit next to you. You're the most entertaining thing in the room. You steered the conversation away from house prices and kids - and that is monumental the world over from London to Oakland. I am the biggest fan of astrology (as opposed to astronomy) and have always read my (arian) horoscope - what a sucker. Still someone read my palm last year and guess I had four kids, the rest was way too vague.
    Agree about the double standards. A couple of my friends have husbands very high up and the men barely make the effort at social stuff while the women are veritable Daisys.

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  10. hi, ALW, I'm the one who was stopped in the street by a "gypsy" who claimed she had known me in a previous life. She picked the wrong girl. Without missing a beat, I replied "No, you didn't, I'm eminently familiar with all of my past lives and I didn't meet you in any of them."

    Yeah,sometimes I scare myself.

    But oh, the topic of house prices. And public schools. And redistricting anything. In a room full of The World's Greatest Experts, that's me in the corner with a drink in each hand seeking oblivion.

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