Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pulling off the habit

So it's official. The pull tab thing is bunk. Bunk I say.

What pull tab thing? I once went over to my Grandma's house for dinner, grabbed a soda (she always has soda), and was told to save and remove the pull tab and put it in a jar. Naturally I asked why, and she told me that she had been collecting them for a charity. Supposedly, you could take the little guys to a Shiners or Ronald McDonald house, and the money that they earned from recycling those tabs went to helping some poor sick person here or there.

I checked it out, and found this:

Back then, I remember it saying something about how the aluminum in the pull tabs are more valuable than the aluminum in the cans, and that explained how the hell something like that could raise any money. Also, I like to think it wasn't targeted towards children. "Great!" I thought. I had been falling a little out of touch with my Grandma, so this seemed like a good opportunity to both give back to the community and do something to show my Grandma that I was thinking of her. What a good boy am I.

So I started at home, then got my friends involved, and then started a pull tab collection bowl at work. Fantastic. Soon enough they were coming in like crazy, and I became a pull tab machine. I would dig through recycling bins and raid the tabs. The tab pulling became compulsive... like saying "bless you" or flushing the toilet.

Eventually I had saved enough to present a bulging zip-lock bag to my surprised Grandmother. It was a Kodak moment, honest.

I had been collecting for for over year when recently I flew home to Louisiana for the holidays. The first night I was there I grabbed a soda for dinner, and pulled of the top. My sister asked me what I was doing and I told her I was giving them to Grandma; which she understood because she too had been subjected by her to the ritual.

But here's the important part. My Dad mentioned that it was funny that my Grandma was going through so much effort (not knowing how much effort I too had committed) to collect pull tabs that weren't actually worth anything. He said something like "I kinda wanted to send her a link to the article about it, but I figured there was no use debating with her." I shrugged and muttered something dismissive, then continued on with my dinner. But the seed was planted.

Throughout the week a still pulled the tabs, but couldn't help but thinking that of course he was right. That was weeks ago, and I have still been pulling them, but today I decided to investigate it myself... and by "investigate it myself" I mean "check on snopes."

So there's that. Great. I have pulled hundreds, maybe thousands of tabs with near religious zeal, even proselytizing the "cause" to friends and associates. Don't I feel dumb.

Since I have stopped being "religious" in the past few years, I have often wondered if I am attracted to habit for the sake of habit. I guess the other variable is the very real OCD that I had as a child, which has dramatically gotten better over the years. Over a year ago I also became a vegetarian (for reasons that might be explained in another post). I noticed that among the psychological processes that occurred when "going veg", that there was something somewhat fulfilling in forcing habit. Even with what compulsions that have survived early adulthood, like locking or checking to see if my car is locked (twice), the reward for the compulsion is immediate satisfaction... and identical to the feeling that you get when you save a pull tab from a soda can. You are doing something right--you can breath easier.

Obviously this asks serious questions about the relationship of religion, habit, and compulsion, to reality... serious questions that could and probably have filled pages and volumes and rants and blogs. What do you do when habit makes you happy, but is based on a lie? Again, nothing new here.. but it's difficult for me to walk away from this pull tab thing without making some comparisons.

Sitting to the left of my monitor is an empty 23.5 oz can of Raspberry Zing Tea--pull tab at an attractive 15 degree angle, calling out to be removed, thrown in a jar, and put towards a charity. Begging.

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