The trap of precedent.

4 minute read |

Alicia and Robert just got married. To start a new life together, they decided to buy a new house in a quaint little suburb near their hometown called Eutopia. After much searching, they find their dream house near the famous Eutopia woods - great access to trails and surrounded by a serene natural aesthetic. That was one of their primary priorities while house-hunting.

To begin turning their new house into their new home, they decide to first get drapes. The only question is - which color should they go for? They go through color swatches and consult online experts however, that just ends up confusing them even more. It’s a hard decision! Blue matches the clear sunny suburban skies, but red goes well with the expensive fireplace that came with their dream house, and green won’t match with anything but still feels appealing. Looking over their little garden with a bottle of wine between them, they wonder how they would ever decide, amongst all the shades of colors in the rainbow, which color to go for knowing that this decision would define the direction of the color scheme of their entire home! What color expressed the love between them, their personalities, and their lives?

What they choose now, although seems benign, narrows down the possibilities in all future decisions regarding colors. After choosing the color of the drapes, each subsequent color choice is not a decision of which color represented them, but of which color was in line with previous ones. Each subsequent decision, therefore, reaffirmed the first and added to the precedent for all future decisions.

Teal, it is then.

Once decided, Alicia and Robert found it increasingly easy to decide on the color of the rug, the dishware, the sheets, the couch, the coffee table, and everything else. It was not because Alicia and Robert had become perfectly attuned to themselves or because they’d become outstandingly decisive, but because the decision problem now concerned itself with matching the precedent instead of their self-expression. Their home followed a comfortable pattern and with it came an eerie feeling of stability, effortlessness, and synergy. Life was good again…

One lazy Saturday morning, they decided to go to the flea market. While strolling through the little kiosks full of all sorts of ornamental goods, a marvelous vase caught Alicia’s eye. It was made of the finest ceramic she had ever laid eyes on and had a curiously intricate shape. It was the perfect addition to their living room. A centerpiece of remarkable craftsmanship. She looked towards Robert for affirmation who seemed deeply troubled and almost horrified.

“It’s orange”, he said. “It won’t fit in our home”.

As they were decorating their dream home, a silent status quo was building up unnoticed. The small color palette that began with the drapes and now formed the theme of their home had taken a life of its own. It rejected what its creators themselves wanted. Alicia and Robert knew that they were free to choose to buy this unique vase but felt weighed down by the burden of precedent of their home.

They knew they were free, but didn’t feel so.

The color palette was unalienable from how their home had so far turned out to be. Alicia and Robert had worked very hard in curating which colors get to be in that palette. This infused it with the quality of being very exclusive to new colors. Whenever anyone questioned it, the palette cited pleasant memories and told exciting stories of how it came to be. It would point to examples all over their home where it manifests itself. The duvet cover matched the pillow covers and the bedsheets allowing for a seamless and intricate pattern to run through them. They in turn went well with the drapes of the bedroom. Sunlight in the morning filtered through the sheers in the bedroom window accenting the walls with a warm hue characteristic of the house. The bedroom drapes connected with the drapes in the living room provided a sense of continuity and calm. The bathware although felt influenced by the expensive marble countertop still aligned with the overall theme as well.

From the perspective of the color palette, it defined the merit of all colors based on itself. Any color that would benefit it and not challenge it was allowed in. It had served the house well so far. Yet, now, this unique and immensely essential vase, on its own, challenged this authority. For Alicia and Robert, buying the vase felt nothing short of confronting their selves a part of which was now alive in the theme of their dream home.

Later that evening, Alicia and Robert sat in their garden looking up at the timeless starry sky reminiscing over the memories of decorating their home and making it their own. They indulged in emotional nostalgia about their home’s color theme that both of them had created together. However, they also couldn’t avoid thinking of the exquisite vase and the promise of making their home complete that it represented. They found themselves trapped and struggling against the psychological servitude of their uncompromising creation. Their home didn’t feel theirs anymore.

Tired and upset, they gave up and bought an espresso-colored lamp instead that went well with their drapes.