Upside of Abilene Paradox



In life you don’t always know what you don’t want to do. I found out what I don’t want to do last weekend.

I hate going to malls on weekends and I hate driving on weekends. It was a few days after my first US trip and I was still under its spell. I decided to oblige my family and take out the car on a Saturday evening to a nearby mall with family. We had a promise to deliver for my younger one. Inside me I was resisting to go, but outside decided to please the ladies. I was remembering the line from Fast and Furious “Never turn your back on family” which we all saw. So, it didn’t matter how I thought and felt. It was evening time and I knew it was rush hour.


At a cross road I was again magnanimous, I allowed the guy in the opposite direction to take a right turn. No honking from behind as well. The guy who turned waved his hand in appreciation and that was nice to cherish. While I was basking in that moment, in came a utility van and brushed against  my car on the left side of the door. He also waved his hand and this time, with utter dismay. I wondered in a span of split seconds how I experienced the duality of sense of service to a sense of angst. In the ensuing mayhem, I saw vehicles pointing in all directions. Somebody had to recede, take back the vehicle and let it go. I was embodying a high spirit. This time it was me for sure (after all I knew I had got the scratch). After negotiating the cross road, I pulled my vehicle to the side and looked at the scratch and inspected the damage.  Initial reaction was I knew I did not want to come out and knew it is going to be a dreadful day and finally the scratch.

A few days later as I was travelling on the Bombay-Pune express highway, I recollected this incident and it came close to another incident where we all initially agreed to go for a dinner. Later it turned out to be an unpleasant experience. When we sat down in the night and discussed it, we all agreed that nobody was in a mood to go out. It is just that each one of us was trying to please the other person. In the mall case also, I was not keen to go but agreed to please. Then whatever bad incidents happen we blame it on the wrong decision. Prof Abilene calls this as a paradox.  It is called Abilene Paradox.


Last week, we went to a house for a pre-wedding ceremony of a distant relative. We saw all elders giving blessings. I tried to get away from the scene. The bride’s brother quipped, “you know my sister (whom I have not met) is getting married. I gently said, “ I know I have done the home work“. People burst into splits. We were summoned and there I was with my wife. I said “Hello” to the bride, we were meeting for the first time! She had a good laugh and I shook hands and fled away from the scene. I was happy that we met lot of people. As humans that is the way we get oxytocin high in our neurochemical state. I was initially reluctant to go for the function. During the day I had asked my wife if she can join me for this function. This time I made myself clear. She was not very keen either, but we decided to test the Abilene paradox. In a jiffy, she jumped in and sat next to the driver’s seat. We had couple of extended family members at the back and we again went through the rush hour. The entire family enjoyed those nice moments in the car and we discovered more about each other.

The bride’s villa was beautiful and the ambience around the place was great. Everyone was beautifully dressed. An intimate gathering has its unique appeal. I realized that sometimes we must go against our own solitary choices and engage with the community and have fun. This experience contrasted with my mall and dining experience. On our way back, the route had many marriage halls/ convention centres. There were a lot of weddings that day, all beautifully decorated and well lit. We enjoyed watching the decorations. Overall, we had a good journey back home after attending our distant relative’s marriage function.

There will be always be upsides to that call from inside which pushes you to say no. The decision is entirely yours. Sometimes it will turn out to be painful and sometimes it will turn out to be playful. As Tony Robbins says, “Things don’t happen to you, they happen for you”.

Don’t think too much, just jump into the “rush hour” and have a “blood rush”. Don’t worry about scratches on the way. As Aditya Maheshwaran says, “A scratch stays as long as you don’t polish it.”


2 thoughts on “Upside of Abilene Paradox

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  1. Well articulated. This is a experience most of us go through. Doing uncomfortable things is when you get great experience. Many at time the whole day is wasted just because of your one thought, why did i agree to come out or drive or agree to go during the rush hour. Immersed in this one negative thought, we tend to lose out on all the blessing and goodness that was happening around us that day.

  2. It is amazing how our thoughts are processed, we take a lot of collective decisions which are contrary to each other and we end up with deep learning, a thought provoking concept, can learn a lot about the psychology of relationships, thank you so much for sharing…..

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