Don’t Fool Yourself: What 6 Classic Pranks Teach Us About Rationalization

Don’t Fool Yourself: What 6 Classic Pranks Teach Us About Rationalization

Did you fall for any April Fool jokes this weekend? You may dislike being the butt of a prank, but most of them are harmless enough.

That can’t be said of the rationalizations people use to “fool” themselves into starting or returning to, harmful drugs. Often, as with the classic prank, the trap is extremely simple and well-known—yet people continue to fall for it due to leaping without looking, or trusting untrustworthy information.

Here are half a dozen well-known pranks you may see at work on April Fool’s Day—perhaps any day. And here are some rationalizations these jokes can remind us to avoid.

The Snake in the Peanut Can

Or the water pistol in the flower, the hot pepper in the chewing gum, the buzzer in the friendly handshake, the string on the “dropped” wallet. They all look attractive but reward close attention with a shock.

Have you rationalized: “How can it be bad when it feels so good, when it even comes in official-looking packaging?”

Don’t fall for it! An amazing number of addictions start with authorized medical prescriptions; virtually every addiction involves something that feels “great.” Take medicine only according to official medical instructions; and if you even suspect you’re developing feelings of dependency toward a prescription (especially one without a set discontinuation date), discuss your concerns with your doctor at the first opportunity. If the prescribing doctor brushes your questions aside, that may be a signal to seek another doctor.

The Whoopee Cushion

The victim sinks into a nice soft chair, only to be jolted back to a standing position by a Bronx cheer or ear-splitting whistle. Some inflatable cushions are designed with noisy leaks.

Have you rationalized: “It’s my down time; what could happen?”

Don’t fall for it! Very few serious binges happen during working hours; most people save their worst substance abuse for “relaxing” in the evening or on weekends, when the performance raters are safely out of sight. You’re at your most vulnerable when fatigue has lowered your resistance and there are few productive alternatives to distract you. Since you (presumably) can’t sleep in all weekend, have some activities planned that will keep your mind active while still providing change of pace: a book to read, a nature hike, a wine-free candlelit dinner with your significant other.

The Unextinguishable Candle

If you try this on a birthday honoree, be sure they’re in tune with your sense of humor, lest you ruin their special day. This style of candle is sold in novelty departments: no matter how hard they’re blown on, they won’t go out because their wicks contain magnesium that re-ignites the embers. (Another famous version of the “easy task made futile” is the coin glued to the sidewalk so it can’t be picked up.)

Have you rationalized: “It’s no use trying to quit; something will always drive me back to drugs”?

Don’t fall for it! It’s true that around half of drug addicts relapse after “quitting” for the first time, but one fall doesn’t make you a failure. To reduce the possibility of joining the relapse club in the first place, get professional help and go back into life with a solid relapse prevention plan and support community. If you still slip up, contact your supporters immediately, detox if necessary, and then resume your relapse prevention plan. Remind yourself that even if you fall multiple times, you never fail when you get back up.

The Shoelaces Tied Together

Or its crueler cousin, the “hot foot.” In either case, someone is up to something literally at your feet, and you don’t sense anything amiss until you get a jolt.

Have you rationalized: “That relapse just sneaked up on me; I couldn’t have seen it coming”?

Don’t fall for it! Chances are you got plenty of warning signals and were too preoccupied to heed their “change course” message. Again, have a relapse prevention plan ready from the beginning, and be aware of your personal “triggers.” Then, be brave enough to walk away at the first sign of a trigger, and wise enough not to numb yourself with the wrong preoccupations. There’s a reason why “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” was preceded by a warning to keep your mind alert and focused on the right things.

The “Kick Me” Sign

This one is an acted-out metaphor for a psychological phenomenon of everyday life: we can’t understand why others are “being so mean” to us, when everyone else can see how obviously we’re inviting it.

Have you rationalized: “I’m helpless against peer pressure; I just can’t say ‘no’ to a friend/relative/coworker”?

Don’t fall for it! Have you even tried saying a single polite “No, thank you” to the beer pitcher that’s going around? If your first “No thanks” is resisted, say it one more time—looking them in the eye and sounding firm but not aggressive—and if they still won’t accept that answer, leave the gathering altogether. Don’t worry about social or professional consequences; the consequences of relapse are always worse, and chances are the incident will be quickly forgotten anyway. (But if it happens again, take it as a sign to avoid that group in the future.)

The Outrageous Lie

Many an April Fool joke uses no special equipment except words. Sometimes the “joke” statement is believable in itself (“Your fly is open”; “Someone’s towing away your car”); but sometimes it’s something no rational person could take seriously (“There’s a giraffe outside eating the potted plants”; “There’s green hair growing out of your knuckles”)—and the victim nonetheless runs to the window or looks down at his knuckles. The trick is to make the statement so outrageous that the victim reacts without thinking—or, perhaps, just can’t resist the possible one-in-a-trillion chance to see something like that.

Have you rationalized: “It won’t happen to ME”?

Don’t fall for it! That statement may not sound as ludicrous as the one about the giraffe, but it has about as much chance of being true. One careless use of drugs leads to another, and no one is guaranteed immunity against the effects of long-term abuse. If it even occurs to you to worry about it, something is sending you a warning signal worth heeding. Be smart and clean, not foolish!