Why Do We Still Do That? Nonsensical Habits We Just Can’t Seem to Kick

A coworker recently told me that the European Union bans the sale of bananas that are too bendy. In the era of having to question just about everybody’s truth claims, I looked into this one and was relieved to learn that the EU does not actually criminalize bananas for their curves, or for their lack thereof. Hilariously, the official regulation stipulates that bananas sold in EU countries are “free from malformation or abnormal curvature” and merely divides the yellow potassium-rich fruit into two categories: those with “slight defects of shape” (Class 1) and those with obvious “defects of shape.” You can see why the rumor started, however, with such language. Regardless, it got me thinking about other laws and accepted practices that just don’t make much sense anymore. Here are a few to ponder:

Imperial measurements

The United States is one of just three countries in the world to use the imperial measurement system, the other two being Myanmar and Liberia. I feel like I can confidently assume many people from these three nations have been in a situation where we were confronted with metric measurements and suddenly became frozen like a deer in headlights. I won’t speak for Myanmar and Liberia, but it seems insane that the United States doesn’t follow the rest of the world in having a universal measurement system. Why do we do this? First, I need to clarify that the United States doesn’t strictly use the imperial system. We did adopt the metric system, as did all countries. However, the system never really caught on as standard. We use metric measurements for some things and imperial for others and it really doesn’t make much sense.

The history goes as far back as the founding of this nation. Bringing over the imperial system from Britain, America’s founding fathers were reluctant to adopt the metric system after hostilities began to form with France. Time went on and the metric system became increasingly popular. The US could no longer resist, so in 1866 President Andrew Johnson made it lawful to use the system. But this change also came at a time when industry in America was growing. According to Stephen Mihm, associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, some of the greatest opponents to this change were industrial manufactures who argued that resizing tools and parts to metric standards would be costly and time consuming. The industry lobby remained strong in deflecting every threat to the imperial system over the past century.

So, today, shouldn’t we be able to make the switch? Good luck! Not only would that still require changing a lot of our industry, oddly enough changing our measurements system can be a sensitive subject for the more conservative, nationalistic American.

Daylight saving time

Twice a year, millions of people all over the world change their clocks, either an hour forward or back, as we have for nearly a century. Why in the world do we still do this? It all started long ago when humans based their lives around the rising and setting of the sun. Makes sense—it’s difficult to tend to the crops in the dark. But ancient civilizations didn’t use clocks in the sense that we do now, so why do we do it? In the early twentieth century, daylight saving time (DST) was used as way to conserve energy and fuel during World War I. While fuel saving for the war effort was the major selling point for implementing DST, a bonus was that it also increased consumer spending. According to Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, people will spend more time shopping and engaging in other costly activities when there is more daylight available. However, the debate on whether this practice should stay or go is still up in the air. While some studies have shown DST to decrease energy usage, conflicting studies have shown that it dramatically increased energy usage in other countries. But do we really need it at this point? First, it’s a hassle. Not only do many of us forget to change all of our clocks, for the first few days after the switch, life can be downright dangerous, especially for drivers. According to a 2015 study from the University of Colorado Boulder, US car crash fatalities increased during the first six days of DST which caused 302 deaths and over $2.75 billion in social costs over a ten-year period. This is because DST not only disrupts our sleep cycles, but also reallocates ambient light from the morning to the evening. I guess until we do away with this system, make sure to use some caution around daylight saving time!

Belief in the “American Dream”

Ah, the American Dream! If you get good grades you can get into a prestigious college that will allow you to land a great job where you can climb the corporate ladder, earning you a paycheck to afford the suburban McMansion with a two-car garage and white picket fence for your 2.5 children, all of which you can display nicely on your yearly holiday card. Sounds enticing, yes? While this American-made lifestyle sounds like the ultimate achievement, there’s a lot to be said for its downsides. What exactly does it take to reach this goal? Money, for one, which most people don’t have enough of to begin with, so you can add a massive amount of debt to that American Dream of yours. Which leads me to its next major cost: time. Not only have you already spent the money you had, but you’ve borrowed hundreds of thousands in loans to afford that degree, home, car, boat, maybe even the hottest new devices. How will you pay that back? More time at work.

Without a doubt, America is obsessed with consumption. Don’t get me wrong, consumption is necessary. It drives industry, boosts the economy, and we obviously need things. But compulsive consumerism has taken charge like never before. The more we buy, the more we want, and the more we want, the more we buy. The cycle (sometimes referred to as the “Hedonic treadmill”) continues. Obviously, big companies and manufacturers exploit this behavior by advertising an emotion rather than a useful product to us. The danger is many Americans don’t have the money to compensate for their purchasing habits. Most live paycheck to paycheck and are drowning in credit card debt. And, per the Association for Psychological Science and the American Psychological Association, when people place high importance on wealth and material things, they are more likely to become depressed, anxious, insecure, less social, and can cause damage to their relationships. The idea here is that no matter what you have, it’ll never be enough. And, let us not forget the extreme environmental effects from manufacturers keeping up with the demand of the consumption.

So, why do we still believe in the American Dream? Because we are bombarded with it every second of everyday.

I certainly don’t have all the answers for combating illogical practices and myths. For now, maybe buying a few bananas in various shapes, measuring them in millimeters, and enjoying them in the dark is all you can do.