On two corners of this world, I am watching two divides. India Pakistan divide in Southeast Asia and another Democrat Republican divide in USA. Of course the first divide has lot more sinister dimension of possibility of nuclear war. And that has historical context too. But more on that in next post.
The Democrat Republican divide is interesting because it’s happening even when there is no reason for this divide to be that strong. After all, both parties support capitalism, human rights and more or less agree on constitution.
What makes the public opinion about each other diverge? Why people completely fail to understand each other’s viewpoints.
And then one of my walks, I made a discovery. I am sure people have made this discovery before. But here it is in my words.
When thinking about someone else, people expect them to behave in a rational and ethical way. But when thinking about themselves, people make decisions based on emotions.
It reminds me of an psychological experiment described to me by a friend of mine. Forgive me for not providing a link, but it was just part of a conversation.
People were divided into two groups and asked to make a choice.
A. Select an airplane ticket at certain price for flying on the route where bad weather and heavy turbulence was expected.
B. Or select a ticket on the route for double the price where good weather was expected.
Everything else was supposed to be same about planes. There was no known technical difficulties and both airplanes were statistically supposed to have the same probability of safe journey.
One group had to pick this ticket for an unknown person. They mostly picked the cheap but turbulent route, because that was rational choice, scary but still statistically safe and cheap. The other group had to pick for their own, they mostly picked the calm route with double the price.
After this, both groups were shown a movie narrating horrible turbulence experience. Then they were asked to make a choice again.
Again if they had to pick the ticket for other person, they picked the scary but cheap route with almost the same probability.
But here is the real kick. When they had to pick for themselves, they picked the safe but costly route even in significantly higher numbers. That means they were more inclined to avoid the fearful experience for themselves after watching the movie. But still they thought it’s OK for the other person to face the fear, as long as it was in their rational interest.
It’s not that people hated the unknown passenger. They underestimated the importance of emotions to the other person.
When thinking about others, people underestimate the erosion to the quality of life by negative emotions like fear and enhancement to the quality of life by positive emotions like self esteem boost.
But when it comes to them, they overestimate those exact things things. They want to avoid negative emotions and go for positive emotions, even if it means making a choice that seems not rational.
Two primal emotions – desire to increase self esteem and desire to reduce fear play a huge role. If you leave room for these two emotions, you would understand the response much better.
Take an example. Think of a recent incident when white cop shot black person.
When white person is thinking about the incident of black person being shot by white cop, their first thought is whether the black person followed cop’s instructions? If yes and still shooting happened, then white people are willing to investigate further. If not, then the case closed. The black person should have followed the instructions.
When black person thinks about the same incident, their first thought is whether the police followed the procedure. No matter the victim followed the instructions or not, the black person would conclude that if the victim did not pose danger to the officer, the shooting was not justified. The situation when cop arrests you is stressful to both ends and may be the victim was too stressed or confused ?
The white people are more likely to identify with police and allow them some emotional slack, like fear and anxiety. The black person is more likely to identify with the victim and allow them emotional slack, like fear and anxiety.
Who is right? I am afraid both are.
(I am generalizing too much. I know. There are plenty of white people that see black angle and vice versa.)
Next time if you don’t understand the choice made by other person, think of two things. Self esteem and fear. Or rather Self-Love and Fear. If the person has to not only make a rational choice, but also make sure it helps them to do self-love and reduce fear, what choice would they make? And you will surely have a lightbulb moment.
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