Pass the Pepper and Salt, Please.

Updated on December 5, 2017
verdict profile image

I have been teaching mathematics in an Australian High School since 1982, and I am a contributing author to many mathematics text books.

We are a regimented, obedient species; of that there is no doubt. We yearn to be free from the trammels of decision making, where each day drifts into the next without fuss. There is no desire to express interest in anything that will rupture the fabric of our pedestrian way of life.

We may dream of exotic adventures that make us stand out from the crowd, but they are merely a form of escapism and pleasant diversions from reality. The truth is that conformity is the lifeblood of our comfort zone. It provides a “strength in numbers” rationale that allows us to defer our thinking to the collective “wisdom” of the masses.

Admittedly, our society requires norms to function efficiently. Take traffic lights. They are grudgingly obeyed, but we can all admit to anthropomorphism by asking them:

“Why are you Red in the face for so @#!%$ long?”

“You’re Yellow because you’re yellow. You’re taking too #$@%& long!”

“You’re not green to the job, so stay Green until my car is over the #@$%* intersection!”.

This proves particularly effective with the gesticulation of your middle finger fully extended to the vertical.

However, even when common sense dictates that something is amiss, we accept that traffic lights are never wrong. Here are two situations where our brain will surrender its thought processes to electrons flowing through copper wire that light up red, yellow and green plastic.

1. You wait at an intersection for the red arrow to turn green in order to complete your turn. Cycle after cycle passes, but the arrow remains red. There is no car in front or behind you suffering the same dilemma, whose actions you can imitate. So what do you do? The logical approach would be to either carefully complete the turn or proceed straight and make the turn at the next opportunity. But we organic beings are bereft of initiative. Rationalising that there must be a valid reason why the green is not showing, you use a mobile phone to inform the police and the traffic signal management office of the situation. After enduring their uninterrupted laughing for 10 cycles of the traffic signal, you reluctantly drive across the intersection, all the while feeling like a heretic within the motoring fraternity.

2. It is 3 am on a deserted road. Driving safely at the permitted 70 km/hour, you encounter flashing traffic lights illuminating a sign: “Men at work. Reduce speed to 40 km/hour”.

There is not a hint of workers. Each of them arrived at home, kissed the wife, played with the kids and the dog, taken out the trash, had a good dinner, watched the wrestling, had a shower and tucked the kids in bed. As their head falls on the pillow, they embrace happy thoughts of how many motorists are crawling along at 40 km/hour, and they contemplate what mischievous devilry to concoct tomorrow.

Anyhow, you instinctively slow your speed according to the directive. Is it that you suspect a police car is lurking nearby, ready to pounce? Perhaps in part, but compliance stems from an innate need to co-operate, to get a “pat on the head” for doing the right thing.

Just like the myth of lemmings blindly following each other over the cliff, rather than trying to swim against the current, we are content to maintain the status quo.

If you see every patron in a restaurant eat spaghetti with their fingers, would you do the same? Probably you will, because peer pressure is a powerful factor in conformity.

But this does not have to be the case.

Consider salt and pepper, Jack and Jill, bread and butter, up and down, and black and blue. We would not consider saying “pepper and salt” and “blue and black” in polite society, any more than we would contemplate celebrating a birthday without singing “Happy birthday to you ..”.

But perhaps we should.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      I've actually had #1 happen to me. I finally just made my turn, but I wait 3 cycles, lol. I'm one of those who slow at night when no men are at work. I'm always worried that there is a cop lurking. I figure it's faster if I'm not pulled over. Peer pressure is a powerful factor. I agree we are happier to go along on autopilot, instead of making decision.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)