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The term human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics – including ways of thinking, feeling, and acting – which humans tend to have naturally. One of the most natural and perhaps the most overlooked of our human tendencies is our uncanny abilities to rationalise what we do. No matter what it is.
We can always rationalise what we do even if we know that it is bad for us. How can people rationalise smoking, excessive drinking or drugs, overeating when overweight, eating too much junk food, lack of exercise or a laundry list of things deemed bad for our health and well-being? Well, we can and do.
We know what is good or bad and we know what is right or wrong. Why do we not choose what is truly in our best interest for the long haul? Who is in control here? We can have an internal conversation with ourselves over whether we should do something or not and too many times our impulsive nature wins.
These impulses can be explained to be hard-wired into our emotional makeup. In order to justify our actions, we become very adept in rationalising. So often our actions are nothing more than stimulus-response if we carefully and truthfully try to explain why we say and do what we do. If you step back and observe your own behavior you might find this to be truer than you would like to believe.
Forget dice rolling or boxes of chocolates as metaphors for life. Think of yourself as a dreaming robot on autopilot, and you’ll be much closer to the truth.
– Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do
Our reactions to our external environment are many times done without any forethought or deliberation whatsoever. In conversations we might say things in response to others and the words just flow out of our mouths. So much of what we do is done without a conscious decision ever being made. Whatever we do or say has to be for a good reason, we tell ourselves. Our actions have to be internally validated, and rationalised because we have a keen sense of self that tells us that we are always justified whether we are right or wrong. Our abilities to rationalise are immeasurable.
The Stimulus Response Theory has been demonstrated quite well with animals. When applied to human beings, I believe it should be the Stimulus/Response/Rationalise Theory. We react to a stimulus and then we rationalise what and why we have done what we’ve done. Many times, we blame the source of the stimuli for what we did and it’s probably more times than not.
Rationalisation is our attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behaviour or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate. Rationalisation gives us the excuses necessary for being justified and correct in our choices.
The science of the mind can only have for its proper goal the understanding of human nature by every human being, and through its use, brings peace to every human soul.
– Alfred Adler, Understanding Human Nature
I find that one of the main reasons that understanding human beings is so perplexing is because of our animal-like stimulus response that can instinctively make us do what we do. Animals do what they do and we clearly understand how instincts control their behaviours. Human beings are so much more complicated in their behaviours so it is much more difficult to understand how our instincts control us. We are such strange creatures and do some of the strangest things. It is difficult to understand the actions of others but we can always rationalise our own behaviours.
Our egos are always there to rationalise our actions and critique the incorrectness of others. Our inabilities to recognise this fact keeps us trapped in a world of conflicting values and perceptions. The first step to climbing above the world’s craziness is to learn about our human nature and how we truly work. Only then can we begin to expand our consciousness and make real choices that will lead us on a more intentional and purposeful path. Our rationalisations will then become less satisfactory and less controlling.
Scott Trettenero’s recent book, Master the Mystery of Human Nature: Resolving the Conflict of Opposing Values helps readers learn about themselves.
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