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The Power Of Beliefs

10 April 2009 No Comment

Often it happens I find myself getting attached to doing things a certain way.

The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is four feet, eight and a half inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number.

We all have our own quirks

Most of the time there’s no problem with that and I can happily keep my quirky habits without interfering with anyone else. I can organise the kitchen drawer a certain way, carry out my bathroom routine in a particular order, start with my least favourite food on the plate and leave the best until last, work while sitting on the most uncomfortable seat in the apartment, etc. etc..

In fact, most of the time I’m blissfully unaware that my quirks could seem a little odd to other people.

I don’t live in isolation, though, and sometimes my idiosyncracies clash with those of others. In ‘Being right‘ I recounted a story from my first marriage about a huge fight we had about the correct way to cut potatoes for boiling.

And I mean HUGE! Shouting, screaming and even .. finger pointing!

I was adamant that potatoes have to be cut across the short cross-section. My wife was equally adamant they are cut across the long section.

Crazy? Yes, but entirely true.

Where do our beliefs come from?

Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the U.S. railroads. Why did the English people build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Many beliefs (and the associated practices) are developed early on in life at home, being brought by our parents from their homes, brought by their parents … Generation after generation passing down whole belief systems. Of course, they change over time as new ones are needed. Sometimes they may be challenged and collapse, to replaced by others. They transform with changing circumstances.

Most beliefs are well rooted in the past, so can be very slow and stubborn to shift and so often lag behind our current realities.

A brief history of the Peatey Potato Law

Why did they use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

The early historical records of the Peatey family are quite sketchy on potato cutting practices.

There are several references in early folk-lore to large numbers of Peateys needing to be fed very quickly. Some experts argue this led to the short-section-cut, pointing to the fact that, cutting this way, saves around 2 milliseconds per vegetable.

An etching (above) dated 1311 appears to show two members of the Peatey family cutting potatoes across the short section, though the authenticity of the engraving is questioned by several prominent legume historians.

Why did the wagons use that odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing the wagons would break on some of the old, long-distance roads, because that’s the spacing of the old wheel ruts.

The earliest reliable recorded mention of the cut, in its modern form, is in the county annals of 1574 where the practice was already well established. In 1728 the ‘Peatey Potato Act’ was passed by Parliament and quickly became known as the PP Law. The Act is still on the statute books and is recognised as one of the oldest Acts of Parliament still in force.

So who built these old rutted roads? The first long-distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of its legions. The roads have been used ever since.

My point is practical necessity becomes habit and habits and practices turn into laws and belief systems.

The power of beliefs

And the ruts? Roman war chariots made the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagons. Since the chariots were made for or by Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Thus, the standard U.S. railroad gauge of four feet, eight and a half inches derives from the specification for an Imperial Roman army war chariot – the width of the back ends of two warhorses.

I believed this was the right, and only, way to cut potatoes.

Crazy as it now sounds, when faced with the alternative offered by my ex-wife, I saw a personal attack on my belief system. I felt a strong urge to quash the potato heresy and my wife with it. It was so strong, I could barely contain my desire to cause physical harm to her (fortunately, I did contain it).

And yes, I agree it is TOTALLY insane and I was not in my right mind.

Who in their right mind believes something to the extent they cannot allow for any other possibility?

Who in their right mind believes something to the point they are prepared to hurt (or kill) someone thinking differently?

Ask yourself this though …

… is there really such a big difference between the ‘Peatey Potato Law’ and all the other beliefs lurking in the roots of the World’s violence?

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