Here is an image to make us laugh because it was designed to do that. Four different alcoholic drinks, vodka, ouzo, whiskey, and gin – each with the addition of ice – seem to have a harmful effect on some of our internal organs, respectively the kidneys, liver, heart, and brain.
This brilliant image concludes that it is the fault of the ice, the only thing visible that is common to all these different combinations. It is clear that there is also alcohol, but this is in disguise, hidden, described by exotic names. And then many like it.
The intent of the person who designed this image is irony; it should amuse the viewer. It made me smile a lot, and then it made me think: everyone finds their own excuse to make recollections and make sense of the things that happen to them in a way that favours their biases.
Above all, we tend to justify having cloth ears when we confront ourselves with something that we don’t want to hear, that could hurt us, that we don’t like, or that requires commitment.
I am passionate about how we, typical of us human beings, can be irrational. Furthermore, we tend to wrongly overestimate our reasoning skills. When facing an event, we are usually satisfied with our initial interpretation, the one closest to hand.
From here, we begin building on our castles of considerations, precarious as the roots from which began with. The good news is that our intelligence and culture that we loudly blame for this have nothing to do with it.
When we have to elaborate on an event, a (typical) human being goes through a series of complex processes. We capture data, assign a label, attribute a subjective value, mentally re-elaborate them, and produce a result.
The process behind convincing ourselves of something
All of this process is consistent with what we want to achieve from the event itself. All of this will then be available for subsequent encounters of this experience and will be an obvious starting point when a new event arises that resembles something similar to the prior event already experienced.
The problem is that without realising it and in good faith, we often acquire the initial data in a vague, insufficient, and superficial way without considering everything is individual, personal, and partial.
The interpretation will be incomplete and inadequate, and the product will be far below optimal. On the other hand, everything tends to become annoying when the product of our mind, absolutely individual, is glorified to the level of objective truth, and we are ready to defend this product at all costs.
How do we behave?
- None of us can manage complexity, overly multifaceted and ever-changing.
- Emotions play a crucial role – especially if we are under stress, and the stimuli that overwhelm us are too many.
- When facing complexity, human perception, already usually vague and insufficient, as well as subjective and individual, becomes even more so.
- We tend to make our choices based on biases and shortcuts in thoughts, which are mostly inaccurate and incorrect.
Factors that affect our thoughts and biases
- what we think doesn’t threaten our status quo
- what doesn’t imply an expenditure of energy perceived as excessive
- what we believe wouldn’t harm or penalise us
- what seems to save us or improve our lives
- what sounds familiar to us or already experienced
- what seems quick, which doesn’t take too long
- what seems close at hand
- what has been done (or said) by someone we think is similar to us.
Whether we like it or not, it is quite right that the ‘gut’ rules and the head justifies. For all that has been written, it is essential to continue to cultivate a healthy scepticism, to curb the urge to make a judgment and to evaluate the alternatives, especially those that could disconfirm our position, instead of those that make us right and feel comfortable.
Mario Maresca is an Executive and Systemic Team Coach, dealing with a wide range of top and middle managers in an intercultural environment.