Why a blog about seeing people as people? Because our brains are dumb.
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
None of us are naturally open-minded. It’s not our fault; our brains were designed this way. We naturally and instinctively seek out information that confirms what we already believe; it stands out to us, it makes sense, it “feels right”, it seems obvious. Our brains have a whole universe of data to take it, and it tries to keep things simple. That means, left to its own devices, our brain will keep us calm and contented and secure in our own previously-decided opinions.
Which is a good plan, a lot of the time. Just imagine if our brains felt the need to re-examine all our beliefs all the time: we would continually have to check to make sure stoves are still hot, that other people are still speaking English, and we’d get out of bed slowly and cautiously just in case gravity wasn’t quite how we thought. That would be ridiculous; we’d never get on with the learning, eating, sleeping, and family-building our brains care most about. So it makes sense that our minds are set up to be pre-disposed toward opinions we already hold and conclusions we’ve already drawn.
But this can really let us down sometimes. Because this way of re-confirming our opinions all the time, though handy for our calmness and safety, ignores one other very important fact about our brains:
They can be very stupid.
We belong to the species that invented whoopie cushions, Real Housewives, beer hats, and puns. We spend half our lives staring at a 5-inch screen playing games with cartoon birds, and the other half truly believing we’re just about to start exercising and go on a diet. We cannot be trusted! Every once in a while, we need to re-examine our conclusions, the same way we check our bank balance or our credit card score, just in case a mistake has crept in.
This is especially true when it comes to other people. Our brains are notorious for judging other people on their appearance or on our first impression of them, and they’re always saving calculation time by relying heavily on stereotypes. We tend to make snap judgments about people, especially when they’re being difficult, and draw unflattering conclusions with very little information.
Gravity and dominant languages don’t change very much, neither do tables and chairs, but people do. People’s needs, motivations, moods, physical abilities, and relationships change all the time. To deal effectively with real people, we need to pay attention and re-examine them on a regular basis. If we don’t treat them as the complex, infinite, changeable beings they are—that is, if we draw one conclusion and never really think about them again—then we are treating them like objects. Our brains can be as dismissive of others around us as they are about the physical objects in our room.
This is why I have a blog about seeing people as people, in case you were wondering. Because we need to fight back against lazy brain and remind it that people are not objects.