A towel has immense psychological value.

Towel Day

Happy Towel Day!

May 25th each year has been designated as “Towel Day,” by fans of the late Douglas Adams, a sci-fi novelist, to honor the life and writing of the author.  His most famous work is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and in it he encourages galaxy hitchhikers to carry a towel at all times…not just for the obvious utilitarian and practical reasons, but to help facilitate interpersonal communication with those you would meet along the way. Here’s the explanation, in part:

“…A towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag [i.e. a non-hitchhiker] discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.” – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Well, I can get on board with that, so here’s my towel. I dug my old favorite beach towel out of the closet for the occasion, but I think in our daily lives we also need to have the type of psychological towel Adams wrote about.

A Psychological Towel…?

Yesterday I drove through Whataburger for one of their new jalapeno-cheddar biscuits with sausage, egg and cheese. Yum! The lady taking orders had a hard time entering this item on the cash register because it’s new, and she asked me to be patient with her, because she was new on the job. When I got to the window, I said to her, “I’m going to tell you a secret. I’ve been on my current job for years, but I STILL tell people ‘I’m a little new at this,’ and it STILL works!” It made her laugh, and she relaxed a little bit. I hope the rest of her day went a little better.

But it’s true. I really do tell people that, and it really does work. I’ts not a lie – I’m ALWAYS trying something new, or doing something in a different way, or taking a new approach to something. And yes, sometimes it comes off as a little awkward until I find my footing. People are much more likely to exercise a little patience and sometimes even offer assistance when I take the attitude of “I’m new at this,” rather than the attitude of defensiveness.

Politicians are well-known for carrying their psychological towels. They’re called “talking points.” Reporters are constantly frustrated by their inability to stump seasoned politicians because no matter what kind of off-the-wall question is thrown at them, the politicians always finds a way to steer the conversations to one of his or her key talking points.

When you go for a job interview, you’re likely to be asked some wacky questions. It helps to have a few talking points of your own – a psychological towel, that will help you confidently respond to curve balls, and give the interviewer a reason to respect you.

What is your towel?

If you are going through some sort of life transition such as a divorce, change in income, or health issue, it is inevitable that people are carelessly going to ask you questions you really don’t want to answer at the most inconvenient times. Why are you still single? Come on and go shopping with us – you’re worth it, aren’t you? What do you mean you aren’t going to have cake on my birthday?!

You’re “towel” in awkward social situations might be a humorous redirect. After two divorces, I’ve learned to tell people I really like the idea of marriage, but I’m just not very good at it. Then I ask them something about their family. Rather than making excuses for not spending money, I simply always have a standing date with my mother (she’s in on this). “I’ll catch you next time – I need to go check on Mom.

If you’ve made a decision to start eating healthy and your new diet is radically different from what your friends are used to, you’re bound to encounter some “peer pressure,” (no matter how old you are) to eat what everyone else is eating. Rather than coming off as “preachy” or “superior” about the new lifestyle I’m striving for, I just mention a short-term goal I’m working toward – a biometric screening coming up soon, a 5K I’m getting ready for in a few weeks, a dress I need to get in to by a certain date. This is much like the “I’m new at this,” strategy; people are more likely to want to help me reach my goal, rather than trying to convince me to eat that cake.

So those are my towels. What are yours?

What say you?

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