Succumbing to swimmer’s body illusion | Sunday Observer

Succumbing to swimmer’s body illusion

G.C.E. Advanced Level examination results are out and successful candidates are now looking for a place in reputed universities. In Sri Lanka, the Colombo University is supposed to be the best. Most of the students I spoke to expressed a desire to follow their degree courses at the Colombo University. Does this mean that the other universities are not up to the mark? I do not think so.  
The situation is the same when it comes to Master of Business Administration (MBA) courses. There are so many state universities, colleges affiliated to foreign universities and private organizations that conduct MBA courses. The fees are exorbitant, but students try to follow them thinking that an MBA would clear the path for future employment.  
Apart from universities, certain National Schools and colleges are reputed to be the ideal places to send your son or daughter. Parents are willing to spend heavily for their children’s education. The question is, do all the children who attend such reputed schools become successful in life?  
Rural schools  
Grade V Scholarship and G.C.E. Ordinary Level examination results show that some rural schools have done better than reputed schools. However, well-to-do parents fight shy of sending their children to rural schools.   
The bare truth is, rural schools and lesser known universities have produced many outstanding doctors, engineers, surveyors, accountants and writers. For instance, Martin Wickremasinghe never attended a university, but he is considered an intellectual by all the universities. There are so many others who do self-study and become useful citizens, but most of them are not graduates.  
Rolf Dobelli, the author of The Art of Thinking Clearly says, most of us are suffering from what he calls “the swimmer’s body illusion”. Once, a young man wanted to develop his body and decided to take up some sport. He looked at the joggers, but found that they had no physical attraction. Then he had a peek at some bodybuilders. They appeared to be stupid hulks. When he had a glance at a group of swimmers, they appeared to have streamlined bodies. Then he decided to join the local swimming club.  
Perfect bodies  
After a short while, he realized he had succumbed to the swimmer’s body illusion. Most of the professional swimmers had no perfect bodies despite rigorous training. Some of them had perfect bodies, but they were not the result of swimming. In other words, some men having perfect bodies had joined the swimming club.  
Similarly, we see on television super female models displaying their spotless complexion and ultra-white teeth. Most female consumers tend to believe that the model’s beauty is the direct result of using a particular brand of toilet soap or toothpaste. But it is not the cosmetics or toothpaste that makes the women models. Quite simply, the models are born attractive with spotless complexion and ultra-white teeth. The models collect a fat cheque from advertisers and those who try to be beautiful women by using such cosmetics or toothpaste do not realize their dream.  
Whenever we confuse selection factors with results we fall prey to the swimmer’s body illusion. However, without creating this illusion advertising companies will not survive. The same bias applies to education. Simply because you get your child admitted to a reputed school does not mean he would do well in studies. Everything depends on how he learns and performs at the examinations.  
University dropouts  
There are many leading editors and journalists who are university dropouts or who have never been to a university. I remember Ajith Samaranayake who strode like a colossus in the field of journalism. He had no university education, but excelled as a fine bilingual writer and a speaker. He was a voracious reader and a prolific writer.  
There is a big demand for self-help books. The writers of such books tell the reader how to achieve happiness through various methods. But the reality is that some people are born happy and they do not want to read self-help books. Others who are born unhappy read them and become unhappier. According to many leading psychologists, cheerfulness is largely a personality trait. You will find some people are happy all the time, while others are unhappy throughout their lives.  
Social scientists Lykken and Tellegen said, “Trying to be happy is as futile as trying to be taller.” Rolf Dobelli has put it succinctly: “That’s why it’s important to give a wide berth to tips and advice from self-help authors. For billions of people, these pieces of advice are unlikely to help.”  
In conclusion, be wary when you have to select a school for your child or when someone tells you how to gain happiness. Before you decide to take the plunge, look in the mirror and be honest to yourself.