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Molnar: Sitting Ducks

This is a story about two ducks and three people. In the interest of full disclosure, I confess that I’m one of the people.

So these three people have for several years been walking and driving, sometimes daily, past a tiny pond where two ordinary looking ducks lived - in all seasons, side by side, always together. Their steadfast loyalty was admirable. And so too was their brave stand against the elements. The two birds in the pond under the mountain, surrounded by horses and fields completed an ideal picture.

Then one day, with ice closing in around them, one of the people decided to feed the brave birds, speaking to them reassuringly, only to register a complete lack of movement.

The ducks were made of wood, painted and placed in the pond beside one another, occasionally moved only by a strong gust of wind.

The second person learned of this from the first, and was at a loss for words. The third, a more pragmatic and observant person, learned it from the second person and reacted with disbelief. Then laughter took over.

It seemed absurd that three people of normal intelligence, neither visually impaired nor senile, could be so misled for so long, ignoring the many obvious signs, from the simple fact that the ducks were always in the same position, to their survival in ice. But I for one think it was because the ducks completed a romantic vision of an idealized rural landscape. They “fit” perfectly with the fields, horses, hills and pond.

It was reassuring to believe that all was right with at least that one spot in the world – and that such perfection could, perhaps, help make other things good. Because if we believe things are good, we won’t have to worry about fixing them. The ducks were right, so the water around them, which turned heavy with algae in summer and failed to freeze-over all winter, was right too.

There’s a growing body of evidence that shows people see, hear and remember what they want. Expectation is a powerful force. It acts on us much as gravity acts on light, bending our perceptions in ways that are measurable by others but not by us. We see, hear and experience what we expect or choose to see, hear and experience.

Apparently, the selective hearing of children is still alive and well in adults, which in turn, may help to explain our current political confusion.

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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