06 April 2023

What shall we do with a missing poster?

This was the plan:

Poster titled "Disgust Sensitivity as a Predictor of Religious Attitudes"

This was the reality.

Hand drawn poster saying, "Disgust and religion: Ask me about it" and not much else.

A plain sheet of paper with hand drawn lettering (possibly done with a Sharpie) saying, “Disgust and religion, ask me about it!”

I wondered, “What do you want to bet that presenter John Terrizzi had more conversations at this meeting than if he’d brought his planned poster?”

I reached out to John for his story, which he was kind enough to share (lightly edited; emphasis added).

This was quite a “happy accident.” It was one of my favourite human moments. 

Here is the backstory about how it happened.

My wife and daughters accompanied me on the trip to Belgium for the International Convention of Psychological Science. Traveling for us is always a calamity.  If you are familiar with National Lampoon’s vacation movies, we are sort of the “Griswolds” of family adventures.

Upon boarding the train from the airport, I did a sort of accounting of all our stuff. Poster, check. Both kids, check. Kids stuff, check. I began putting all of the stuff on the rack above us. First, the poster then all of our daughters' bags, stuffed animals, and favorite blanky.

When we departed the train, I grabbed all of the important things, my children and their stuff. The poster, which had rolled to the back (out of sight, out of mind) was left behind, hopefully to do its own European tour, but more likely to get stuck in a Sysphysean back and forth from downtown Brussels to the airport.

Upon arriving at our hotel, I realized my blunder. No poster!

Rather than be dismayed, I resolved to share my story with my fellow confrencers. With my wife’s help, I repurposed my colleague’s discarded poster and shared my story. It resulted in a lot of fruitful conversations.

I research the emotion of disgust. This particular poster was about some of my work that explores the relationship between disgust and religious beliefs. Disgust is a particularly nasty emotion that can have costly consequences for our attitudes toward other people (i.e., prejudice and xenophobia), but it can also have negative consequences for our attitudes toward ourselves (e.g., self-disgust and shame). One of the potential solutions to the problems that disgust can present is exposure. Accepting that we make mistakes and being alright with that.

As a person that has made a lot of mistakes in my life, I have developed compassion for myself and others, which allows me to tolerate the messy world that we live in. Losing my poster allowed me to model this tolerance in a way that, hopefully, inspires others to risk being human.

I don’t have any social media accounts, so I didn’t realize this went viral until I started getting emails and texts from colleagues and friends. One of my favourite references to this was an email that I got from the print shop on my university campus. I was having some posters printed for my undergraduates who are presenting at a regional conference.  The woman who works in the print shop emailed me to let me know that the posters were ready to be picked up and said, “Don’t leave them on the train this time. 😉”

Thanks to John for sharing this story – and giving a chance for people to see his original poster!

Photo by Olivier Klein.

P.S.—The title of this blog post is more fun if you sing it to the tune of “What shall we do with a drunken sailor?”

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