Cutlery and traffic lights


What do sorting cutlery and obeying traffic lights have in common? Their relationship is not overtly obvious, yet as with many other possible examples, they can tell us a great deal about our lives and how we live them. How can everyday cutlery help us make better decisions in life? Take a moment to consider how easy it is to sort cutlery. Something I find myself having to do most days is stacking and emptying the dishwasher. If you don’t have a dishwasher, don’t worry this concept works without one. Simply take the clean cutlery and sort it into the cutlery draw.

That was easy. That was too easy. Did you notice how quick that actually was? You know the knives go in the knives compartment, the forks with the forks, spoons with spoons. You even know the difference between various types of spoons. Ok so now you are thinking, ‘what has this got to do with anything, of course I know how to sort my cutlery?’ The reason you are able to unconsciously sort cutlery is because you have been conditioned to. This mundane everyday task simply demonstrates how deep that conditioning is.

Without thinking you can perform the task of sorting objects into a predefined order. Not only can you do this super fast, without thinking, but the order that you are sorting into is not something that you created. It was something that you have learned. It is something other human beings determined and then many many others perpetuated until ultimately it was taught to you. You don’t get much of a choice, you just get to carry on the process.

Traffic lights have been around for just over a century. For many of us they are part of our every day movement as we drive or walk to our various destinations. When driving they directly control our behaviour. Green, we go, Red we stop, Yellow, we should slow down and prepare to stop, but in a hiccup of conditioning many of us speed up to catch the light. When I first became aware of how traffic lights were controlling my life I was pretty upset with Red for making me stop all the time, but it soon dawned on me that Green was just as bad as Red in the way it controlled my actions. I’m not advocating anarchy here. There is good reason we have traffic lights and for pedestrians waiting patiently for the little green man to appear before crossing, they make possible a safe transfer from one side of the street to the other. I don’t mind the safety afforded by traffic lights, I just want to highlight how we have become conditioned to act according to a colour response mechanism.

Cutlery and traffic lights are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In what other ways are your decisions being made based on conditioned responses? I would argue that unless you are making a conscious effort to deconstruct your decisions outside of all social conditioning then perhaps everything you do is predefined by social constructs that have been in place well before you were conceived.

Your world doesn’t have to fall apart when you deconstruct it, however you may find you can make better decisions for yourself based on what you truly want. Again I’m not promoting anarchy. Social order serves a purpose. Doing only what you want when you want is not what I’m advocating. Actions have consequences and respect for others and their fundamental rights should always be part of decision making.

Evan Shapiro

This blog is edited and used with permission of the author. Originally posted in an extended version 'Cutlery, traffic lights and the genius of King Lear @