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Winter 2016

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Fall 2016

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DIANA PHAM/THE VARSITY

I am short. If I were one or two inches shorter and lived in the USA, my height would fall within the Little People of America’s description of dwarfism.

If you asked me why I am vertically challenged, I would talk about genetics and how most women in my family are short.

If you asked my grandmother why I am short, however, she would give you an entirely different answer. According to her, my height was caused by someone hopping over my legs when I was lying down as a child, stunting my growth.

There is no rhyme nor reason to her belief — or, as I would call it, ‘superstition.’ My grandmother has never given me an explanation as to why or how this could be true, yet she refuses to believe anything else.

A superstition is a belief that a certain action or practice leads to a particular consequence by means of supernatural forces.

Historically, superstition has been associated with religion. Even though superstitions sometimes stem from religious stories — such as biblical theories surrounding the number 13 — they are often cultural by-products passed down from generation to generation until they become so deeply ingrained that no one questions why they exist anymore.

So why should my grandmother believe anything else, when her culture firmly trusts and reinforces these superstitious beliefs?

After all, superstitions exist all around the world. My grandmother would be glad to know that it isn’t just people in Pakistan who believe that jumping over someone’s legs stunts their growth. People in South Korea, Japan, and Turkey share her belief.

Also, people in South Korea and Japan believe that writing someone’s name in red ink is considered a kiss of death.

The number four is fervently avoided in many East Asian countries. This is due to it being nearly homophonous with the Chinese word for death. Similarly, Italian people are wary of the number 17, since its roman numerals, XVII, can be rearranged to VIXI, which implies death.

In Pakistan, the left eye twitching can be an omen of bad luck, whereas an itchy right palm foreshadows money in the near future, but the palm cannot be scratched on purpose. In Brazil, letting a bag hit the floor means losing money.

Anyone debating eating the last slice of pizza or swiping the last cookie should just go ahead and grab it — eating the last piece of food is said to bring good luck in Thailand.

If it is ever night and you are exhausted, but your parents are telling you to clean up, tell them that sweeping at night is inauspicious, especially in India and in Turkey, as it will deter the goddess of luck or angels from visiting you.

These superstitions will likely seem strange to any who trusts scientific evidence. However, you need only go into an apartment building and look for the missing thirteenth floor or take in the abundance of beards among male athletes during playoff season to realize the ubiquity of superstitions present in our lives.

There is nothing wrong with being superstitious. Most of us possess personal rituals or talismans in the form of lucky t-shirts, special underwear, or pieces of jewelry that we utilize before important events in our life.

Primarily, we utilize superstitions because they give us some semblance of control. They allow us to fill in and explain the gaps of the sometimes inexplicable events in our life. Superstitions can also provide comfort; following a certain ritual or practice gives us a sense of routine. Lastly, superstitions create a sense of community; it is fun to practice and pass down traditions, credulous or otherwise, that have been in your family, culture, or country for years.

However, when we start believing superstitious rituals and talismans are the only way we will succeed in life, things start going south. It is not healthy to be entirely dependent on
rituals and talismans, because the absence of them may lead to panic, paranoia, and stress.

When superstitions start dictating every aspect of our lives — like not buying something that has the number four written on it or going back home because a cat crossed the path —
perhaps it is time to distance ourselves from them.

And if you still can’t break free of your superstitions, you should try and try again — remember, third time’s the charm.