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Worst-First Thinking Is Making Us Dumb

Lenore Skenazy on

Side hugs. Hugs that you do sort of hip-to-hip with an arm around the huggee's shoulder, as if you're doing the can-can. Counselors are allowed to give those hugs at the day camp my friend's kids went to. But "frontal" hugs were outlawed in 2010. Why?

Isn't it obvious? They're perverse! They could involve genital contact! Why, they're practically sexual assault!

Or so the thinking goes. I'm sure the possibility of actually being sued IS lurking in the camp director's mind. But basically the camp has taken a normal part of life -- the hug -- and turned it into an orgy of, well ... that's it. The rule-makers turned hugs into something akin to orgies, thanks to a new outlook on life I call "worst-first" thinking.

Worst-first is when you jump to the very WORST conclusion first. For instance (and for real): a young man was shopping at the grocery store when he passed a mom with her little kid in the cart, and he waved to them. Sweet.

In the next aisle, he saw and waved to them again.

When he got to the third aisle, the manager came over and asked him to leave.


What could the young man have been doing that was bad? "Grooming" the tot to crawl over to his place later? Grooming the mom so she'd hire him as a babysitter? Neither scenario makes any sense. But worst-first thinking isn't about sense. It's about imagining the most repulsive possibility, no matter how outlandish, and acting as if it were already happening.

It's an impulse we are being encouraged to adopt.

Think of all those "What Would You Do?"-type shows. The one I really despise involves a little girl (really an actress) playing on the swings at the park when a man ambles over and starts chatting with her.

The TV reporter lambastes anyone who didn't stop this man dead in his tracks and lauds anyone who butted in and said, "Hey, get away from her!"


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