One day I realized something I never really wanted to admit: People who work in human service roles don’t fully understand human nature. They know what they want to do with it, what others should do with it, and the issues with what others want to do with it, always considering their “doing” as better.
The cycle of madness continues.
I wish madness was clearly visible. It’s always cloaked in great words such as transformation, change, happiness, peace, high performance, alignment, conflict resolution, profit, success, etc. You can be giving the wrong advice by hiding the actual meaning underneath or entwined inside these words. When the brain hears these words, it creates a sort of dissociative, transfixing, calming response. I believe a neurochemical response pattern akin to addiction circuitry is activated. What makes humanity fascinating is the way it can use contradictory concepts and seek dissonance reduction more than truth, but use words as substitutes for “truth.” Would soberly grounded and engaged brains fork out $11 billion dollars in 2019 for self-help products that are done mostly by buyers who have bought similar “solutions” in the past 18 months? This to me says most of the dollars are coming from people who were promised prior solutions to a problem and are relatively quickly on to the next solution.
What is going on here?
I think it is said best by one of the great apologists of the 20th century, Frank Sheed, in the quote below. Given the time his brilliant book Society and Sanity was written (1953), and from where this quote is taken, the use of “man” for human nature was commonplace, and so I share the quote unadulterated for the effect underneath gender that he was trying to make a point of, outside of an inclusion issue. Please know he is referring to the essence of a human being here in this powerful quote:
“But in the whole of our social life, man is overlooked. Man is taken simply as a word, the label for a particular kind of being (the kind of which we belong ourselves), and nobody stops for any serious consideration of what the word means. We proceed immediately to consider how to make the creature happier without ever asking what the creature is. It should be just the other way around. When some new proposal is made which affects the way men live our immediate reaction is always to ask, Will it make men happier? But this should be the second question, not the first. The first question should be, Does it fit the nature of man?”
Due to the aversion to look at the “what is-ness” of a human being, perhaps at the risk of hitting a wire that makes those truths unpopular to say in this raw and tense world we live in, we are questing for things that may not be possible. Perish the thought of saying a heresy sentence like that in this everything-is-possible culture of autonomy. For instance, I keep hearing a phrase now that I find fascinating: “In these uncertain times we are living in now…” Compared to the Age of Certain Times back in the day? We have this strange sense that we can control more than we did years ago; but technological breakthroughs are methodological changes and not changes to the reality of human nature itself. This is where we persist in going after more and more of change wishes, at the cost of what is.
So, yes, this article begs the question—what are those quiet yet persisting “things” of human being-ness that seem immune to progress, change, increased happiness and weight loss, and perfection at all costs? Or better said, the things we should be accepting first about our nature before seeking limitless change—for maybe when we do that, change would happen quietly and more authentically in us, in our hearts:
- Emotions before reason. Whether we like it or not, the fight or flight circuitry in our brain runs more of our show than we think—even when we believe we are engaging with others, listening attentively, seemingly motivated to change, and open to requests coming at us. Many times what seems like the above, really is fence-hedging, divided-up parts of us trying to do change talk, while at the same time afraid to lose something we want to try to hang on to while using the words of change. It is in our nature to simultaneously seek growth and not at the same time, or try to rewrite reality over and over so we can make this true. This neutral state of affairs makes me feel it is truer of our nature to not trust that what we say is really what we want, as most of us are way more internally conflicted than we want to admit. A self-help product for the “internally conflicted about buying the product itself” likely won’t sell as well on QVC next to the product assuming a unified, singular motivation.
- We are sense-makers over truth-seekers. As illusionists, magicians, marketers, and Hollywood can all attest with great evidence of their success over human perception of “reality,” it’s clear that human beings love the packaging of a good story. So much so, a human may cease going deeper once it is satisfied with a good-enough story. We are wired to seek the reduction of that anxiety I allude to in the bullet above, no matter how it comes at us. We are in essence lazy discerners, verbally addicted to words of excellence but actually living out ways of the “good enough.” Why? Telling a good, dissonant-reducing story is simply easier and feels good—I believe as much as sugar or another chosen craving of ours does.
- Social transactions are our currency, be it counterfeit or otherwise. Ever notice the apparent pressure one feels to always return a call, text, or email? Or answer something when asked a question? It seems to me we are driven by some law of social exchange in a back-and-forth rhythm that is greater than the content inside it or the boundaries that are supposed to contain it as meaningful. Silence, “I don’t know,” or some other culturally contrarian way of being appears out-forced by the norms of convey-something-at-all-cost. Even the notion of dialogue has an implicit bias that all types of dialogue, at all times, with all people should be preferred over not speaking or engaging.
With these powerful undercurrents at play in our life and our perceived “rightness” on everything, one wonders if we really know what we think we know about why we do what we do, and if we can even be discerning enough to know issues of amount, context, timing, and other perceptually non-salient variables we simply ignore or make “all the same.” I am reminded of a great lyric from a song called “Ignorance and Privilege” from the folk singer John Gorka, that points to this invisible force of influence:
“…if the wind is at your back and you never turn around, you may never know the wind is there. You may never hear the sound.”
I believe the way we think is fueled by a wind that if we don’t grow an awareness for it, we will continually solve the wrong problems of life really well, blinded by the pleasure creation in our brain that was glad to create something. Let’s hope we don’t stay stuck looking at the water like Narcissus, loving the “creator” we deemed ourselves over the laws of Creation or Reality, and share the same fate.
Dr. Kevin Fleming is Founder of Grey Matters International, Inc.(www.greymattersintl.com), a neuroscience-based consulting, advising and technology based firm devising innovative behavior change solutions for complex issues of irrationality inherent in individual, team, and culture-based transformation efforts. He can be reached at [email protected]