I come across, quite frequently, many who claim to understand others. An equal number of others, if not more, are those who want to learn to understand others. In the human resources and its cousin professions particularly, a window into the dungeons of the human mind and human behavior is considered the holy grail, and many fall for the charms of mastering it — at least the notion of it. Therein hangs this tale.
The idea “to understand others, their behaviors and motives” is so intoxicating that before we know it, we fall for it. The mere idea that it is possible to do so is enough to suck us into believing that we can actually do it too. One of the reasons why we fall for it is because it gives us a sense of power. What can be more gratifying than the idea that we can understand others and their actions — but in that knowledge is the mistaken belief that we can play with it, influence it, and control it. Some elemental study around mental models, pop psychology and juvenile theories and oops… ladies and gentleman, we have got a psychologist in the house!
The idea that we can even begin to unravel the recesses of a human mind and then tie them up with its manifestation is overconfidence unless one has devoted an entire life to studying it. For everyone else, I guess the whole thing is tantamount to armchair hunting. It gives a nice feeling and a high, but at the end of it all it, it’s notional and really unreliable. However many fall for it. I wonder why?
This whole thing becomes ironic because while being interested and even passionate about pursuing the study of another mind keeps so many of us busy; the dungeons of our own mind remain unexplored. The physician remains ailing! I also reckon that the lack of understanding of the self remains an ignored pursuit not as much because of ignorance or inability but more because of arrogance – which one knows enough about himself/herself.
As Kabeer says,
Padhi guni Pathak bhaye, samjhaya sansaar
Aapan ko samjhe nahi, britha gaya avatar
(Study and teaching the world is of no avail, Unexplored and un-understood self – such a wasted life!)
So the question to muse over is not the sermon of needing to spend more time and effort to understanding ourselves rather than wasting time on trying to understanding others, but the question is what makes the latter so charming and the former so repulsive? I use the strong adjective repulsive and not ‘unattractive’ because I reckon such large-scale denial definitely must have its roots in something fundamentally disturbing. Perhaps we are too afraid to study self for the fear of what we may find – perhaps we already know in some strange way what we will find.
Being passionate about pursuing the study of another mind keeps so many of us busy that the dungeons of our own mind remain unexplored
I must also hasten to distinguish between ‘talking about the study of self’ and its entire attendant models versus the actual understanding of the self. My pop hypothesis is as follows — the actual self-awareness of a person is inversely proportional to the amount he/she speaks on the subject of self-awareness. So the next time someone speaks very eloquently about the subject of awareness and ego, you must run for your life.
I think it was Carl Jung the famous psychologist who had said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” A twist on that could easily be, the more we are interested in know about the minds of others indicates that we running away from understanding ourselves!