WHAT is irony? Instead of giving you a technical definition, here are four examples: An alcoholic and chain-smoking doctor. A marriage counselor who is separated from his wife. A 25-year old man who professes to be a life coach. Finally, a fire station that got burned.

In real life, the list goes on and on, including the following: In 2019, a Manila police station that operated an honesty store was robbed in broad daylight. In the US, the most shoplifted book is the Bible. American businessman William Phelps Eno (1858-1945), the inventor of road safety and traffic control signs, never learned to drive a car.

Going back to the future: Dan Ariely, the much-revered professor on behavioral economics at Duke University and best-selling author of Predictably Irrational (2008) raised the question "Could you enjoy sex with someone you hated?" In his book, Ariely told the story of a certain Roy who was part of a study on decision-making by people under sexual arousal.

For Ariely, the research would help understand the relevance and impact of arousal on man's behavior and solve difficult societal problems such as teen pregnancy and the spread of HIV-AIDS.

Forget arousal in the meantime. What if people from civil society, the clergy, and those doing humanitarian work were appointed to the Cabinet instead of police and military generals? Would this guarantee good governance? Maybe not. And if so-called honorable people fail to live up to our expectations, what can we do next?

Get the latest news
delivered to your inbox
Sign up for The Manila Times’ daily newsletters
By signing up with an email address, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Reverse psychology

Sharon Wu wrote an article entitled "Avoid Reading this Article at All Costs" (2016) to prove the power of reverse psychology. She asked: "Has it ever confused you how you can convince people to pursue a specific behavior by telling them to do the opposite of what you wanted? If so, it is advised that you stop reading this article on how that persuasive technique, known as reverse psychology, works.

"Not everyone can handle the mental complexity behind a seemingly counter-intuitive phenomenon. If your desire to continue reading suddenly increased, then you can probably understand why reverse psychology can, at times, be effective."

Sometime ago, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) posted many intriguing traffic signs including "Bawal tumawid, may namatay na dito (No crossing, someone has already died here)" at busy intersections. How effective was this compared to the "See you soon" sign attributed to the memorial service provider St. Peter Life Plan?

No one knows. We may have to check official data on vehicular accidents, assuming these are available. But what if, using reverse psychology, the MMDA rephrased the sign to something like this: "OK tumawid, kung gusto mong mamatay (It is okay to cross if you want to die)"?

Reactance theory

We live in a democracy and many of us are comfortable expressing our opinions on almost everything, including matters that adversely affect how we do our work. Imagine how you are constricted by a helicopter manager who hovers over your shoulders to monitor your progress. Are you happy with it?

The obvious answer is no. That's because it's a reflection of the lack of trust and respect. It's one reason why we rebel against command-and-control bosses even if it means losing our job. This is the essence of "reactance theory." We rebel the moment government authorities issue unreasonable and laughable regulations like the wearing of a face shield during a pandemic sans scientific studies or in contravention of established air dynamics.

The same thing happens when management demands that workers working from home turn on their computer cameras so they can be monitored like fish in an aquarium.

So, where does this leave us? The answer can be found with Socrates, who said: "The unexamined life is not worth living." We have to ask a lot of questions to challenge conventional wisdom and analyze awkward situations, like the one used by Ariely in seeking the impact of arousal in decision-making: Would it be fun to have sex with someone who is extremely fat?

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Chat with him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter or send feedback via [email protected] orhttps://reyelbo.consulting.