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Why We Fail To Understand Each Other?


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.





Who Wants The Rapists Hanged?

There is a story of the sage Raman Maharshi. When people went and talked to him about their grievances, he would ask “who is talking?” If the person talked about enlightenment, he would ask “Who wants to get enlightened?”

This seemingly perplexing question was intended to make the questioner start querying the nature of their own identity, the nature of source of desires and to begin the introspection necessary to eventually get enlightened.

The death verdict has been handed out to the Delhi Rapists a while back. It’s time for us to do that introspection by asking ourselves. “Who wants the rapists hanged? Which part of us will be happy when they are dead?” Because it’s not the incidents of rapes but the immediate cry to hang the rapists as a solution speaks volumes about our maturity as a society.

For one, I question the wisdom of hanging the rapist. When the rapist has already committed rape, if they already became eligible for penalty given for murder, why will they keep the woman alive? Keeping her alive in fact increases their chances of being found and being hanged. So won’t they kill the her? That’s going to be the unwelcome outcome of death penalty for rape. It may bring down the number of rapes, but it will increase the number of times the woman is killed after the rape. Have we asked the raped women is that really they want? Noone wants to get raped, but if raped, I bet a large number of them will still want to live, for their kids, for their loved ones. Because as heinous crime rape is, it’s still possible to cope with it in the long term with counselling and support.

Second, if all you are debating is what to do with the bad guys, you understanding of the real problem is superficial at best. Because in reality, deciding the punishment is very tiny piece of the puzzle. The larger pieces are to find the culprits, to make sure they are the criminals and not some scapegoats, to follow the due justice process and prosecute them for exactly the crime they committed, and to prove the crime beyond reasonable doubt.

What we really need is to dig deep in ourselves. For any event, there are causes and there are enablers. In the event of rape, the cause may be the criminal tendencies of a few young man. But the enablers are outdated values of society such as tying honor of the family to sexual encounters of a woman, even involuntary ones. Or outright barring premarital sex. Or banning prostitution for 19th century puritan values.

The last one might be a tough pill to swallow for some. But the fact is one huge enabler for the misbehavior against women is suppressed testosterone. Having a legal age sexual encounter much before marriage might just disillusion the young men about sex and they will know that while sex is pleasurable, it’s not worth scarring a woman for life. Why bar prostitution if it provides a channel for this disillusionment that is least hurtful to all? India already has one of the lowest ratio of cops per thousand citizen. Is the society better served by the cops chasing prostitutes? Or by the cops chasing murderers and robbers?

I am afraid solutions like allowing prostitution to reduce crime against woman will never go well with most of the angry crowd. Because that would involve stopping hypocrisy and coming to terms with reality. And because sadly the part of us that feels happy when the rapists are hanged is not the voice of truth inside us. It is the insecure part of us that whispers “I must yell out for the harshest punishment for the rapists, because I have doubts whether I am a good citizen and this is only way to silence my doubts temporarily”.
Sadly we have turned the death of an innocent woman into pornography for our conscience. Just like real pornography has one dimensional, shallow, unrealistic portraits of characters that quickly quench one particular thirst of human mind, we turned this whole incident into our quest for validation of our conscience, our need find clear black and white situations and then side with white to see ourselves in positive light.

And sadly the answer to the question “Who wants the rapists hanged?” is not a flattering one.

In Today’s Maths Class, We Will Learn To Catch A Serial Killer!!

From about 1985 to 1995, for an entire decade, a serial rapist haunted the town of Lafayette, Louisiana. The man broke into houses and raped his victims at gunpoint.

Dr. Rossmo, a well known Geographic profiling expert was called in for help. At first the cops were skeptical about how effective his methods would be in catching a criminal who had hoodwinked the local police force for a decade.

“Look at it this way”. Dr. Rossmo explained his concept. “Imagine a sprinkler watering a garden. Now, even if you know where a sprinkler is, you can’t possibly predict where the next drop of water will fall. However if you have knowledge of sufficiently large number of locations where the water drops fell, you can find where is the most probable location of the sprinkler.”

“So if you are trying to analyze the data available so far and trying to predict where the next crime will happen, it is not going to work. But we know the locations where crime happened, so let’s try to guess the location of the source, the criminal.”

Dr. Rossmo put forward a theory that a criminal who commits a series of crimes does so in a particular pattern. The criminal does not want cops in the vicinity of his residence. So he will choose locations sufficiently far from where he stays. However the criminal also wants to have good knowledge of the crime location for planning the crime well. So the location will not be too far from the residence of the criminal.


Consider the diagram above. Around the serial criminal’s most frequent geographic location, which is normally residence or workplace, there lies a “buffer zone”, a zone within which the criminal does not want trouble. Outside of this buffer zone likes “hot zone”, or “zone of comfort for committing crimes”. Outside this “hot zone” is all “silent zone”, zone which criminal considers too far to do anything. Identifying these zones gives a good sense of the location of the criminal. Using the sprinkler analogy, if the crime locations are the places where water droplets fall, then the location of sprinkler is the location of the criminal.

Based on the data and forensic information, Dr. Rossmo created a mathematical formula to model criminal behavior. Based on this formula, he predicted a small area as hot zone, which was not previously considered as probable area for searching the criminal.

The cops carried out extensive search for a while, which yielded nothing. Finally one day, based on an anonymous tip, cops investigated one of their own, a Sargent, who had recently changed residence, but used to reside in the ‘hot zone’ before. His DNA matched the DNA at crime scenes. The rapist was jailed and the decade long case was finally closed.

This case and the area of criminal investigation overall is the classic example of how the latest information age has capability to transform life and society, how the information is the strategic asset of todays world and how if you are willing and creative, you can push the limits of possibilities beyond imagination.

In our schools in India, we learned one after another mathematical skill, without ever bothering to ask “why learn this”. All I remember thinking that time was how to get best grades in school, so that I can get the best job or admission to the best school for further studies, which will guarantee a happy and secure life.

Perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves some questions.

While India produces 10 times more software engineers and science graduates than Canada, and Indian police force is severely limited in resources compared to Canada, making it a perfect place to apply IT based criminal solutions, when will India have it’s own Dr. Rossmo?

When will our education system break the shackles of centuries old legacy of all-theory-no-application?

When will an enthusiastic teacher in a school in India will enter the mathematics class and declare “In today’s class, we will learn how to catch a serial killer.”