My father used to say something like "Worry is negative hope"—by which he meant, as I understood it, that worrying about the possibility of a particular bad thing happening was like hoping for it to happen—it puts out vibes encouraging the Universe to bring that thing about, or something.
I never really bought that idea. His underlying point was, I think, that it was better to hope for a good outcome than to worry about a bad one, and I can see value in that; but at the same time, I think there's also value in thinking about and preparing for contingencies.
But that's my rational brain talking. There's another part of my mind that isn't at all rational about this kind of thing, and it insists that being too confident in a positive outcome will cause a negative outcome, by some sort of mystical law of universal irony and overconfidence-comeuppance.
Partly that's the same sort of idea as the Murphy's-law-like notion that if you don't take an umbrella with you, it will rain. (Which I more often hear in its converse: taking an umbrella with you prevents rain.)
But there's also more to it than that, something at a more personal and deeper level for me:
When I was about ten or twelve, my mother told us that she was dying. She had had leukemia for years at that point—she lived for five years after she was diagnosed, despite being told she had only six months left—but I think the disease must have reached a point where she knew that she wasn't going to last much longer.
I told her that she wouldn't die, that she couldn't, because we needed her.
And then she left—went to stay in a clinic on Orcas Island, or maybe it was a hospice for all I know—and not long after that, she died.
I obviously don't actually believe that there was any cause or effect there (and didn't even at the time), but it was a powerful connection for an impressionable kid. And I think there were two or three other instances around that time of less important things where I said out loud what I wanted or expected to happen and then it didn't.
So I developed a theory, as a kid, that saying aloud that something would happen (if I actually wanted it to happen) would cause it not to happen. I was too much a rationalist to really believe that with most of my mind, but at the same time, the superstitious part of me has a kind of Pascal's Wager-like attitude about this kind of thing. If superstition is nonsense (as most of me believes it is), then knocking on wood is a harmless joke; if it's true, then knocking on wood is a good idea; either way, there's no harm in doing it. (Unless you get obsessive about it, but I think that's a different issue.)
This may all also be part of why I have a hard time asking for what I want. Some years back, I was at a friend's house and asked for a glass of water, and the two or three friends I was with all stopped and stared at me, and one of them said, "Jed, you just asked for something. You never do that."
(I've gotten a lot better about asking for things since then, but I'm still not very good at it. But there's a bunch of other stuff tied up in that, too, mostly around fear of rejection.)
Anyway. I've been thinking about this whole jinxing thing lately, because of the house-purchase stuff. The whole structure of the deal that we'd worked out was so precarious, relying on so many different improbable bits and so many different people's interlocking needs, that I felt like one overconfident thought could blow over the whole house of cards.
So I mostly refrained from talking about it here, and even in person with most of my friends. I didn't honestly believe that talking about it would make the deal fall through, but why take the chance? The thought of talking about it made me nervous, so I didn't.
But there is, of course, an opposite viewpoint: some people feel (at the same irrational gut level) that there's power in positive thinking. (I'm trying to avoid bringing religion into this discussion, so I'm not going to talk about prayer here.) And if that's true, then surely having a lot of friends hoping for a good outcome would be better than it being just me doing that hoping, no?
Then, too, some people have the purely rationalist viewpoint that nobody's hopes or fears or worries have any effect on the outcome.
(Also, I know people who, once they start worrying about something, get caught in a vicious spiral of debilitating distress, and so they try to avoid thinking too much about the things that could go wrong. But that may be only tangentially related to what I'm talking about; cf cognitive behavioral therapy.)
So I'm curious: what, if any, gut feelings do you have about the way the universe works with regard to this kind of thing? If there's some part of you that doesn't entirely subscribe to the rationalist worldview, does that part of you believe at a gut level that hoping for something will make it happen? That hoping for something (and/or wanting something) too much will make it less likely to happen? That worry creates bad vibes? That overconfidence creates a universal-irony backlash? That making or not making contingency plans has (in some nonrational way) an effect on the outcome? Some entirely different belief about this kind of thing?
There are no right or wrong answers; I'm just curious about what y'all think, or rather what your gut feelings are.
(On a side note, I'm also curious as to whether there's any correlation with optimism and pessimism. I'm definitely an optimist; I'm not sure how that fits with my "don't jinx positive outcomes by talking about them" attitude.)
(Wrote most of this a month ago, but didn't get around to finishing and posting it.)