Looking for Consistency across Beliefs and Choices

Scratching the Surface to Make Sense

Be it reaching the airport on time, or completion of that critical project, or even getting those stupid nods of approval from friends, we are somehow evolutionarily wired to feel secure when we seem to be in control of things.

Want to check the veracity of this claim? Please observe your physiological response when your Uber driver chooses to cancel your ride to the airport when you are already running late. An unexpected event, irrespective of its magnitude, often manages to catch you off the guard. And the last thing you want in your life is to find yourself at the edge of some unknown cliff.

Last evening while coming back from the dental clinic, we were stuck in a traffic jam (definitely not an ideal time to get into an argument with my partner). On second thought, is there a perfect time? If you think there is one, please let me know, because, in our eight years of togetherness, every single argument seemed to have cropped up at the most inappropriate moment. Well, that’s a separate topic for a full-length post.

We have a six-year-old excuser-in- chief who specializes in the art of weaving stories after assessing our vulnerabilities. She has made us believe that brushing her pearly for more than a minute will lead to vomiting, so any resistance on her part is nothing but a reflexive response and should not be interpreted as non-compliance. It’s been a while since she started complaining of toothache which could no longer be ignored. In a way, late evening visit to the dental clinic was something imposed on us due to this unavoidable urgency.

While we were stuck in traffic when coming back after getting multiple cavities of our storyteller filled by the dentist, I was wondering if this unwarranted situation could have been avoided, had I taken the matter more seriously into my own hands. Given the fact that I did opt out from taking the complete responsibility of getting our storyteller’s pearlies clean on a daily basis, therefore, I couldn’t blame anyone. I had no choice but to accept it as if it was always meant to be (a more comfortable option compared to self-blame).

When things are not in control, and we wish that they were in our control, this concoction of polar extremes can throw up potentially hazardous psychological response; especially when we are unable to find someone or something to blame. We love to find someone to blame so that we could arrive at an early conclusion without any guilt on our part for not using the rational mind.

We generally refrain from challenging most of the established norms, because it often requires not only the deployment of “intellectual bandwidth” to digest contradictory arguments, but it also expects us to choose our respective position along the fault lines.

Even if you manage to convince yourself in taking an intellectual position on certain issues, is there any guarantee that you will start behaving consistently along the lines of newly found beliefs after getting it filtered through your intellect?

For instance, you may intellectually convince yourself in believing that the idea of holidaying at a foreign location is nothing but the concept of “the ideal life” sold to neo-consumers by a big bunch of romantics. The very idea of vacationing with your family that too in a foreign country is a modern phenomenon. Now even after having knowledge of the truth behind the popular propaganda, do you think you can convince your kids into believing your perspective and ask them to refrain from entertaining the idea of vacationing at popular foreign locations? Good luck if you are contemplating any such move in the near future.

This is precisely the reason why we witness an uncomfortable degree of divergence between what we behold, believe, and behave. Probably one of the reasons why there is so much of widespread hypocrisy; especially among the informed lot.

For instance, you might be a staunch supporter of freedom of choice and religious tolerance, but when it comes to your kid choosing to marry outside your own ​religion, you have a hard time supporting them in their decision. Similarly, as long as you are a direct beneficiary of flexible immigration policy, you might not support the protectionist regime. In fact, your rational mind is often blissfully unaware of all the inconsistency in your belief and choices.

Contrary to popular belief, there is a limit to which we can use our rational mind to arrive at decisions because our mind is evolutionarily programmed to search for short cuts. We perceive the world not in any objectively accurate sense but through the lens of our needs, aspirations, and immediate experiences; where our choices are invariably influenced by our environment.

Let’s say if you are interested in buying a new car, it is very unlikely that you may prepare a spreadsheet comparing every possible feature of all the vehicles falling within the ambit of your budget. You are fully aware that the latest model of car that has managed to capture your imagination has all the potential to boost your image in the neighborhood, simply because that latest model is yet to be seen around your vicinity and your aspiration is to be the proud owner of that piece of beauty. Even though there might not be any rationality in your choice, you are smart enough to conjure enough reasons to justify your decision, including the choice of color.

Coming back to the argument with my partner during the traffic jam;​ ​the content of the case is immaterial. The afterthought of the episode allows me to revisit my own vulnerabilities; all that I am in denial. It makes me accept that though I can aspire for perfection in my life, every now and then I am going to hit myself against the wall of my own limitations. Some dimensions of my life will always be at the mercy of some other dimensions that remains my top priority for the time being. Not being able to do justice to every possible dimension goes to prove that I am a ​​human too endowed with all its weaknesses, susceptibility, and shortsightedness. But once I understand, how this episode is making me acknowledge my own limits and stretching me beyond it, I will in all likelihood stop fearing the possibility of finding myself at the edge of some unknown cliff. ​

Curious by Nature I The Startup, Better Humans, ILLUMINATION-Curated II Loves to Play at the intersection of Cognitive Psychology, Neuroscience, and Philosophy.

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