The right-in-front-of-me phenomenon

I used to do something funny to my parents when I was growing up. I’d ask one or both of them, “Do you want to see this movie _______ with me? It’s good.” And whomever I was asking would answer “I’m too busy” or “We’re too busy.” They also generally have a pretty low interest in seeing movies. But, lo and behold, once I had a movie playing and they walked by, they’d stop and sit down and watch it.

Now the same thing happens with my wife. If I’m making quesadillas and say “Hey, I’m making quesadillas. Do you want some?” She’ll always say she doesn’t want any. But when I sit down with those quesadillas, she sees them and usually wants one. If there’s a TV show I want to watch, she won’t want to see it if I want to turn to that channel. But if she happens to walk in on me already watching a show or movie, she’ll watch it with me, and sometimes she’s pleasantly surprised.

It happens to me, too. At first, I had absolutely no interest in watching The Vicar of Dibley, but she’d just have it playing in the background, and then I’d start watching and laughing along.

I think this is human nature. There are things we don’t want to do or initiate in theory, because the idea of it or the name of it doesn’t sound that appealing. The experience of it, when presented to us, though, is more appealing.

Hearing the word quesadilla? Not as appetizing as seeing and smelling quesadillas in front of you. Hearing the phrase Vicar of Dibley? Not as funny as seeing and listening to the vicar tell a joke. That’s the right-in-front-of-me phenomenon. Experience sometimes cannot be matched by the words describing the experience. When Harry Met Sally… sounds like just about the dumbest movie title ever conceived, but that’s the greatest movie of all time (yes, I’ve seen Citizen Kane, and it does not even compare).

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