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Why everyone around me is so irrational and how can I fix them

Imagine if you were a woman who was cat-called — and you decided to interview your cat-caller. 

This is exactly what Eleanor Gordon-Smith, an Australian journalist, did.

Cat-calling or eve-teasing is nothing new to women. Every one of us has so many stories tucked away in our memory vaults. 

Why men cat-call? What they hope to get from it? Eleanor decided to confront her cat-callers to find out. What she discovered left her dumbfounded.

Most of them didn’t mind being interviewed. When she thrust her mean-looking tape recorder under their faces, they gave her inconsistent reasons behind their motivation. 

“A guy just does it for attention,” said one. “I am looking for a reaction, any reaction,” admitted the other. “I am looking to meet someone, start a conversation, try to see if she is into it.” claimed the other. 

Then she came across the most bizarre one, “They love it. They have to love it.” His conviction was absolute so was his irrationality.

But was he any more irrational than anyone of us? 

We like to think that we are reasonable, while others are unreasonable. But is that the truth? Is it in itself an unreasonable belief in itself?  

Much that we like to think we are rational beings; we are all irrational.

Take the process of decision making, for instance.

We like to think we make our decisions rationally. But we don’t.

 A rational way of decision-making is to assess a problem from all its angles, weigh pros and cons, and then decide. 

How many of us do that? And even if we do, how many we have followed the logical conclusion?

I have often drawn a line in the middle of a sheet of paper, written down the pro and cons but rarely I have made the decision in favor of most ‘pros’ on the table. My mind had already reached the decision. All I was doing was discovering what it was. I was justifying myself to myself. 

Is that rational?

Rational persuasion is the right way of changing our minds, but do we actually do that?

No, we don’t. 

The reasoned argument is the currency of persuasion sounds good in theory. The fact is we hate being persuaded. Right or wrong, we like to hold on to our beliefs. Changing our beliefs means putting aside ego and admitting that it is time to change our ill-informed beliefs. How many of us do that?

I have been trying to get my husband to do flexibility training for years now. He walks each morning, at least five kilometers, sometimes even more. He is doing enough cardio-vascular workout but nothing to keep his muscles flexible. He can’t squat, can’t sit on the floor, and have trouble picking up things he drops. But he refuses to do any flexibility training. He believes a walk is all he needs to stay fit. All the rational persuasion (and the evidence that he is losing flexibility) is not enough to change his mind.

Very few of our life decisions are based on rationality.

When we base our decision on rationality, our mind is calm. We know we have made the right decision when we have listened to reasoned arguments, considered all the facts, and didn’t get dissuaded by the people around us. We have been able to set aside our ego and emotion to make a choice. That is why we feel at peace with ourselves. But that happens only a few times.

When I decided to take early retirement to devote my time to writing, it was one of those decisions when my mind was totally at rest. It took six months of planning, considering all the options, fulfilling financial obligations, and choosing the right time to resign. Not even once, I regretted it.

But soon after, I made a series of decisions that left me frustrated, angry, and led to so much mental turmoil, that I wondered if I was the same woman who so calculatedly embarked on a new career.

If we don’t make decisions rationally, then how do we make decisions.

The fact is our decision-making process is as unpredictable as our beliefs are. Both happen somewhere deep in our minds.

We make decisions subconsciously. 

A common agate in marketing is that we buy with our hearts and justify with our minds. It is true with our decision making too.

We make decisions based on our belief system. 

The more aligned our decisions are with our belief system calmer, we feel. When a decision is in alignment with one belief but conflict with another, we enter the world of turmoil.

Sometimes we make decisions in a split second, and it just feels right. 

Although the reasoning is not clear to us, there are thousands of subtle clues that our mind picks up and uses them to reach a decision.

Why do we find our own decisions rational but other people’s decisions irrational?

Other people make their decisions the same way as we do. 

Their belief system is different than ours, so what is rational to them is irrational to us. 

We can justify our own decisions to ourselves, but we can’t do that with others. So we start thinking they are irrational.

I find it hard to believe that my brother has spent so much money to buy a second-hand car for which he could have bought a new car. For me, a new car is a new car. It is less hassle and has a manufacturer’s warranty. But my brother finds it hard to believe that I would go for a new car that depreciates as soon as it comes out of the showroom. We both think of each other being irrational.

Can we make other people act rationally?

Only as much as they can make us act rationally.

Irrationality is the space between what is expected of us and how we respond.

If the two align, we are considered rational. If they don’t, our behavior is considered irrational. But alignment happens less often than more. And it frustrates us.

I used to spend my weekends helping friends make up their minds. And my weapon of choice was — reasoning. It used to frustrate me how they would come back to the same position the day after. The reasoning is not enough to make us act rationally. What makes us think it will be enough for others? I now keep my weekends free to read a good book or go for a walk.

Telling the cat-callers that women don’t enjoy indecent remarks and providing them ample evidence with not make them act rationally. Not encouraging them and leaving clues to leave you alone will surely discourage them.

Summary

Let me recap the points I made. 

  1. We think we are rational while the people around us are irrational.
  2. Even though we like to think that we are rational, we make decisions irrationally.
  3. Rational decision-making at the conscious level might sound good in theory, but our subconscious mind picks up many more clues and reach a conclusion on its own, which is better than the conclusion we can reach consciously.
  4. Other people’s decisions feel more irrational than our own because their belief system is different than ours.
  5. It is hard enough to change ourselves, let alone the others.

Let’s not try and change others when it is so hard to change ourselves.

Photo by heyerlein on Unsplash

  1. Kanwal Verma says:

    Excellent article. Well written. And so true!

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