Thursday, October 2, 2008

The magical Good-Lah policy

We're going to sound like crazy insurance agents at first, but bear with us while we tell you about a policy that keeps reaping dividends.

We're referring to a mental policy, and it got its start (ridiculous as it may sound) one day at a casino. There we were, throwing away our hard-earned cents at an activity that involved guessing whether the next card in a face-down deck was going to come up red or black. If we guessed red, but black came up, we'd lose our bet. Red, and we doubled our (pitiful) stake. Anyway, we got into the habit of chorusing, "Good lah" whenever the wrong colour came up ('Good lah' being the endearing, Malaysian-accented equivalent of 'Jolly good'). The tenuous logic behind the forced merriment was that, given the law of averages, so long as we kept betting red, each time black came up made it the more likely that red would be next up.

We never did make much money. For one thing, the game didn't use an actual deck of cards at all, but rather an enormous computer-generated stack of decks, which meant that - for all practical intents and purposes - the probabilities accompanying each red-or-black choice were always 50-50 (those who could explain this more succinctly, preferably using easy-to-understand examples, are welcome to do so). But adopting the Good-Lah policy is easily translated into a broader attitude towards life in general: It simply means that, when something comes along that seems to have negative consequences, we may take it as something likely to lead to a positive outcome down the line, so long as we stay the course.

Yesterday, for instance, saw an instance of Good-Lah in action. Our Sonny has been driving us to distraction by his insistence on gumming down on anything he can get his hands on (as reported in 'Mad mouth alert'). No win there, if this was Fate dealing the cards. But we've also been feeling rather anxious over introducing non-milk foods into Sonny's diet. We'd heard of titanic struggles in which the baby energetically spewed the proffered vittles in sundry directions. So we were gearing up with bib and cloths for our first try-out. But as it turned out, Sonny's insistence on chomping everything and anything made the whole process preposterously easy. We spooned up some cereal and he would willingly take it in his mouth. A twist or two of the spoon, as he munched away, and it was mission accomplished. Good-Lah indeed.

Of course, the more cunning (or perhaps just pessimistic) reader will note a corollary of this policy: It's just as likely that, a few turns down life's road, Sonny's rapid acceptance of solid food might lead to some unwanted outcome: Suppose he develops an insatiable appetite and goes from plump to obese before our horrified eyes. To keep the policy viable, therefore, we'd have to keep extending the negative-to-positive scenario into infinity (eg Sonny gets so fat, he learns the joys of exercising, but then...). At some point, we seem to be reduced to just saying that you can never be sure what's going to come up next. It's all about adopting a suitable attitude and enjoying the ride.

Good-Lah. Or make that good enough.