Many who know me today wouldn’t believe that not more than a year ago, I was a rather dark fellow. My life included a fair share of drinking, eating, and other emotional ways of intoxication, all without reason. By chance, I stumbled against a book that changed my life and helped me find a stream of lasting happiness: “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. That book represented my first introduction to a topic that obsessed me over the last year: human behavior.
The topic of human behavior promises from happiness to lasting relationships and wealth, so why not dive into it? Well, this post is not a lecture on human behavior, but instead, I will explain how it changed my life.
First, let’s give a small notion of what behaviorists study: human or animal behavior as either a reaction from stimuli or in relation to the past. In particular, Kahneman explores decision-making, stating that our minds have two ways of operating, one more intuitive, and the other more rational. This knowledge then leads to the rationale of our various biases and heuristics.
Every chapter of the book made me revise how I perceive everyone and everything. Suddenly, the world was no longer against me, but it was a canvas where I could achieve what I wanted if I had control over it and let go of what I didn’t. It impacted three areas of my life: It allowed me to spin up and accelerate my career; It allowed me to improve my health and fitness drastically; it allowed me to redefine my social relationships for the better. It’s incredible to think that one book impacted my life more than almost eight years of soul-searching. I believe that if everyone studied behavior, the world would be much better off.
As I learned more on this topic, I started developing empathy with those I didn’t necessarily agree with. This type of empathy feels strange because suddenly, I had no strong opinions about anything anymore. Sensitive topics like politics, religion, and racism only drove me to ask questions to gather more opposing perspectives and build empathy rather than “taking sides.” This doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, apparently, thanks to our biases (amongst them confirmation bias and herding), we categorize into good and bad those who agree or disagree with us, especially in morals and ethics. I picked the confirmation bias from the list because what happened to me is that I found myself classified as immoral, not by disagreeing, but for failing to agree and avoiding the contentious topic. The lack of support was enough evidence to back any theory that I am <<insert something>>-cist.
Side Note: This is an extremely over-simplified rationale that might not do justice to the topic of ethics and morals. If you want to read about it, though, I strongly recommend reading “The righteous mind” by Jonathan Haidt, which covers the topic correctly and in much, much, much more detail.
The reason why I avoided any kinds of confrontations comes from behavior as well. Research shows that people build their reasons to explain their feelings and not the other way around. This means that it’s futile to try to reason with anyone whose mind has been made up by their internal feelings and drives. Their logic is purely based on their feelings!
So, if it’s impossible to reason whit people, then what can we do about it? The bible has one answer I like:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” - Luke 6:37
Well, Luke didn’t have it entirely right, according to my experience. The exercise of not judging led to judgment toward me anyway, but I understand what he means. When it comes to moral issues, you might feel disrespected or even disgusted by someone else’s behavior. The urge here is to embrace these feelings, forgive ourselves for the intolerance, and forgive others for not being able to see things from our point of view. All of it in the hope that Luke is right, and they will forgive us too, for the same sins.
What do you think? 🙂
To summarize. Learning human behavior will introduce us to important skills. When mastered (see my post on skill mastery), these skills will deliver an increased sense of self-awareness and awareness toward others. Hopefully, it will help us build empathy and have tolerance and forgiveness, which, in my mind, is a crucial ingredient that today’s society seems to be forgetting.