Thursday, April 30, 2020

Why do we almost always Make it about Ourselves?

Human beings have this incredibly irrational desire to have the final word.

Suppose you are let go of at the workplace.
Upon going to the premises, you quickly realize you're no longer invited nor allowed to access your (former) office. What would you do?

Would it make any sense to start shouting "I quit" at the gate?
Would it be any necessary, much less useful, to openly start expressing regret and saying how big a mistake and waste of your time it was to work in that particular company? Wouldn't it be much more important to try and find out what the situation actually is, without first putting yourself in it?

My point here is that when certain things don't go our way, particularly things we have emotionally invested in, we find it very hard to adjust to the abruptly altered reality.
This is something Malcolm Gladwell captures very well in his Preface in The Person and the Situation book by Lee Ross and Richard Nisbett. He writes:

When we perceive the actions and intentions of others, we tend to make mistakes. We see things that aren’t there and we make predictions that we ought not to make: we privilege the “person” and we discount the influence of the “situation.”
The obvious thing many of us fail to realize, being too blinded by emotion, is that life is made up of finite seasons. And what matters in the end is what one gets out of every season.

* * *

In the last week of last month, I sadly lost my sister. Between March 24 and March 28 when we buried her, I did put on a strong face and managed to get a lot of things done with minimal interruption. I guess this is because there was constant family support and daily communication with one another.
In fact, many people that I regularly talk to, particularly on chat, barely noticed a change.

Things, however, did change after Sunday, March 29. My mind got inundated with endless thoughts about her. It was quite a mix-up - at times nostalgia, other times past challenging times we have jointly faced, again it would be moments I cherish, and the ever present sadness that comes with asking: "Why Njeri, and not me?"

It was for this reason that I actually went quiet all of that week between Sunday, March 29 to Saturday, April 4, 2020. I just didn't want to talk, as I took time to internalize and come to terms with suddenly losing someone so close.
And a funny thing happened. Someone I had grown very fond of reached out on April 4, accusing me of ghosting and consequently saying (a very ironic) goodbye.
That singular act of making things that deviate from the realities we are used to all about oneself is what has inspired this post.

Another thing did happen, thanks to the insights and enlightenment I have so far been getting from some of the books I have been reading both in March and April.
Were it not for this, I would have mistaken that particular "friend" - who opted to walk away in a huff instead of actually asking what may be happening in my life - as being among people who are so full of themselves.
These are the people who always make it all about themselves, by throwing tantrums as spoilt brats do, and playing victim. Or in more vindictive situations, passing blame and unfairly accusing other persons.

* * *

Niccolo Machiavelli also intimated the following:

"For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are."

One of the reasons we repeatedly engage in irrational behaviors is our innate tendency to view everything within the world in relationship to oneself. In other words, to be self-centered.
That is why we "act out" when we don't get our way. It is also why we contradict and deceive ourselves in countless ways. Writing in 'Critical Thinking: Tools for taking charge of your Professional and Personal Life,' Richard Paul and Linda Elder have put it in these words:

"We act inconsistently, ignore relevant evidence, jump to conclusions and say and believe things that don't make good sense.
We are self-destructive, petty and vindictive. We rationalize, project and stereotype.
Humans live with the unrealistic but confident sense that we have fundamentally figured out thet way things actually are, and that we have done this objectively."

All this happens because naturally, we do not appreciate the point of view of others or the limitations of our own point of view. This is all due to egocentric thinking, which we can only explicitly become aware of if specially trained to do so.

It's for this reason that Jonathan Haidt also shared in his book 'The Righteous Mind: How Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion' that we are a bunch of hypocrites so skilled at putting on a show of virtue, that we deceive even ourselves.

* * *

In sum, it is important to both acknowledge and counter the egocentric thinking that all too often predisposes us to use self-centered psychological standards to determine what to believe and what to reject.

Instead of depending so much on our intuitive perceptions, it would be helpful to engage intellectual standards in thinking. This can be achieved through self-understanding, becoming critics of our own thinking, being fair-minded and purposing to make intelligent decisions that are not always subjective i.e. centered around our selves.

* * *

Sooner or later, every person comes to the realization that in running ahead, he or she actually goes too slow. Acknowledging that one is trying to get their hands clean in dirty water is always a reminder that it's become necessary to take a different road.
Only by diligently going back to the basics of life can we stop being blind with our eyes wide open.


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