By Jim Hagarty
You can’t really claim to be with it these days unless you’ve been involved in a study. Either the subject of one or the person doing the studying.
We’ve become, let’s face it, a society of studiers. Men are studying women. Women are studying men. Women are studying women. Both sexes are studying sex. And food. And sex. And pollution. And sex. And civil rights.
It works like this. Somebody wonders whether or not there’s a connection between pea soup and bladder infections. So, he wanders around asking a bunch of pea soup eaters about their peas. He tabulates the replies, figures out a few conclusions and sends off copies of the results to the media. Next day, front page: Study shows pea soup keeps people going. Author grants TV interviews. Publishes hardcover book. Spends winter in Jamaica.
Person B reads the study, says, “Hold on, now. This pea guy’s full of beans,” and heads off to do a counter study which reveals, to no one’s surprise, that people can eat pea soup till they look like it and there’s no need to pass it up. Pea soup companies praise the report and use it in their ads. Pea soup haters deny its findings. Person B flies off to Bermuda in December.
Somebody really ought to start studying the studiers. A good study might just show that the balls of their feet were tickled too much when they were babies or not enough or that they only got half their minimum daily requirement of hugs. Or that they got hugged too tightly too often causing a reduction on the flow of blood and oxygen to their brains.
Or maybe somebody should study all the rest of us to find out why we think some self-proclaimed expert in a shirt and tie and carrying a clipboard and calculator is an authority on anything because he tallied up the answers on a few questionnaires he sent out, questionnaires none of us asked him to send us and most of us didn’t send back.
Imagine the study-nut as a child, surveying all the other nursery school students in his class to see whether they believed rest time lasted long enough, polling his brothers and sisters to see if they thought broccoli was an appropriate food to tell a kid he had to eat or no ice cream, and monitoring his parents’ moods to see what sorts of activities were most likely to cause them to turn red in the face and say bad words.
I’ve seen some of these children carrying out a few of their early studies. I’ve watched them dive off coffee tables onto their heads to see whether the resulting impact can be expected to produce any corresponding activity in their tear ducts. I’ve looked on as they’ve conducted tests to see if a bowl of supper thrown upside down on a clean kitchen floor will bring on any signs of distress in a tired parent. And they’re forever carrying out consumer studies on the strength of glass in relation to stones, on whether record albums lying on a couch can withstand the impact of a child’s bouncing buttocks and whether a cat dragged across a lawn by its tail will meow more than once.
In their teenage years, these future professional studiers experiment to see how many pimples can be crowded onto one human face, how angry the average teacher can be made during a 37-minute class and if it’s possible for parents to believe that 14-year-old people can forget until 3 a.m. that they were supposed to be home in their beds by 10 p.m.
Later, on the trail to that first big career job, the young adult studier interviews a lot of potential employers to see if any of them will believe any of the following statements: 1. I enjoy working hard and keeping busy; 2. I guess you could call me a self-starter; 3. Money is not a motivating factor with me; 4. My favourite pasttimes are reading, jogging, playing Mozart on the piano and learning new languages; 5. My goal in life is to help others in any small way I can and to contribute to the well-being of my family, my community and my country.
To be honest, I’ve wanted for a long time to get in on this study thing before it goes the way of the love-in, the walk-a-thon, the happy-face button and the self-help book. I sure could use a winter in the sun. But when I really get looking at it, I realize how hard it is to find anything in 1987 that hasn’t already been studied.
So someday, I’m going to release my findings about this guy that sits five stools down from me in the coffeeshop every night. I’ve been studying him for years as we’ve sat there emptying our mugs and although I’ve never spoken to him nor he to me, I’ve come to some startling conclusions concerning the flaws in his character.
And I think I’ll release the study soon because it occurs to me now that he’s been studying me back all this time and may just be thinking about publishing a study of his own.
That’d be just like him to do that.