Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Abilene Paradox – because we didn’t want to let others down…

Abilene is a place in Texas, USA. I’ve never been there, but the first time I heard of the place was when I was in college (UiTM) during the Organizational Behaviour class. Dr. Zulaika told the class about a bunch of people, a husband, a wife and the wife’s parents, who were sitting around, doing practically nothing when all of a sudden the father said, ‘Let’s go to Abilene.’ From where they were, Abilene was 85 km away. Because he sounded so enthusiastic, the son-in-law said, 'Ok, why not.' The wife said, 'Yes, let’s have dinner there.' The mother said, 'Sounds like fun.'

The trip was bad, and the food was lousy and then they had to travel all the way back again. Then, the mother said, 'Maybe we should’ve stayed home.' And the wife said, 'Yes, I thought, everybody else wanted to go, so I went along.' The husband said, 'I thought you wanted to go, Dad…I didn’t want to disappoint you.' The father said, 'Not really, I just made the suggestion because everybody looked bored.'

It is a weakness. On everyone’s part for wanting to please others. That’s why a little impertinence is necessary. In the story above, impertinence would have saved them money and precious time.

Imagine, then, if the husband was a jerk, and instead of saying 'why not', he’d look up from whatever he was doing or while sprawled on the couch, and say something like, “WTF for?”…..

It is the right response… it was what the wife and the mother in law would like to say but is inhibited somehow by a hormone in their body. (Yes, there is such a hormone… it was in an episode of House MD). And, it is probably the answer the father-in-law was really expecting, minus the expletive, perhaps, but he would’ve been happy if his suggestion was shot down.


So, why am I writing this? Because, I can't get this one memory out of my mind.


Din (my cousin, my brother, my friend) and I were in Johor Bahru. This was a very long time ago, we were in our late teens. Din's father has taken ill and for some reason, he was sent to a private hospital there, away from our hometown in Muar. I can't remember how I got there, probably I went with my parents but then decided to hang around with Din. It was fun. We put up at another cousin's house, Aboy, and we listened to a new band called Alphaville and their hit songs "Forever Young" and "Big in Japan".

The next day, Din and I were asked if we want to go back home to Muar with my parents or hang around a few more days then go home with Din's sister. I really wanted to go home, but I thought Din wanted to spend another day in JB. So, I said lets stay.

But, the day was spent hanging aroung the hospital because nobody was available to take us around, and Aboy could not spend time with us beauce he had a tennis tournament or something. We complained to an adult (I can't recall who it was) who got angry and scolded us, and Din said to me, 'You are the one who wanted to stay...'

I walked away from Din and I didn't speak to him for a while.

Perhaps, I owe Din an apology, for walking away and not talking to him... but, neither of us wanted to make a decision and when things didn't go as we planned, I had to bear the blame for saying what I thought the other party wanted to hear.....

Sorry Din....

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