I’ve often seen Indian parents make a grave parenting mistake the moment their toddler falls on the ground and starts wailing. To comfort the child, they beat the ground while saying to it, ‘Bad floor, you made little Rahul cry. Take that!’. The child, seemingly reassured, stops wailing until this happens again.
The mistake here is that the parents unwittingly give their children an external locus of control. When things go wrong, they imply to the child that somebody else is always at fault – even the cold, hard, level surface that otherwise does a fabulous job of supporting them up. The harder, but more meaningful thing to say to their toddler is that he made a mistake and fell down, but not to worry – for with a little more practice he would soon be waltzing on the most sinister of surfaces.
Even as this seems like an extreme example, we adults routinely make this mistake when we talk about the weather. Have you caught yourself saying, ‘We are having bad weather today’? How different is the weather outside than the surface of floor that a toddler stumbles upon?
I am guilty as anybody else of attributing positive or negative adjectives to the weather. We are simply conditioned into believing that a pleasant, sunny day is good weather, while colder, windier and overcast conditions represent bad weather. In a study, several people across the US were telephoned and asked about how satisfied they were with their lives. The people whose city had better weather on the day reported being happier.
The surest recipe for misery is to be at the mercy of forces outside one’s control. The rule of thumb here is to attribute the adjectives ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to only things we have control over. A Scandinavian saying goes, ‘There is no such thing as bad weather. There is only such a thing as bad clothes’.