To understand the true quality of people, you must look into their minds, and examine their pursuits and aversions."
-Marcus Aurelius in Meditations, book 4, section 38
One of the greatest difficulties in assessing any kind of human behavior is that humans are often quite unaware of the real motives for even of their own actions. The publicly declared motives are quite generally suspect. However, even the motives that a person him- or herself thinks to be the real reasons for his or her own actions are normally just a tip of the iceberg of the motives that make us tick.
For example, when one develops a hatred towards somebody, one generally soon has a comprehensive list of rational reasons for it. We just are rationalizing animals. We so much like to think that our decisions are based on rational reasons.
However, we are not often even aware of the cause for our hate. Of course, irrational feelings that are roused by the appearance or behavior of the person in question are always at play. Very often people will never confront these issues. They just stick to the rationalizations that they have created.
I have been talking in this blog how a systematic method for rationally analyzing the motives of people could be useful tool in many situations. I have named my method as ?Stochastic Motivational Analysis?.
The idea of ?stochastic analysis? comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The word 'stochastic' means that the analysis is just the currently best possible one. The stochastic results can change the whole time quite freely with the arrival of new information. In a ?Stochastic Motivational Analysis?, there are never final, unmovable results.
Let us take the example of somebody hating another person. When we analyze the motivation for it, we need to ask, for example, could there be hidden ideological or political motivations. We can also ask if the person can have a deeper financial motive.
On the other hand, one needs to ask if some kind of public debate has had an effect on the person. After all, the person in question could be just following a trend where certain types of people are portrayed as detestable. One needs also to ask if the social group, institution or organization that this person belongs to have some kind of special relationship with the social group or institution that the hated person does belong to.
Similar batteries of questions can be constructed to cover all facets of human behavior. Naturally, some or even all of these motives can well be also openly declared too. Of course, the deepest personal motivations can never be fully known. However, a mere act of trying to understanding them can show us how the declared motives are often just a thin layer that is laid out to hide the reality. This process can help us even immensely at times, when we try to figure out why people do different things.
This does not mean that people would knowingly lie about their motives. They just often are not willing to face reality. Rationalizing decisions is so often much easier than trying understand what makes one do different things. If this is true of one?s own actions, how much easier is to accept the explanations of others whom one sees as his or her allies on their face value?
Trying to understand human behavior can be a burdensome process. Doing it can also be interpreted as lack of trust if the openly declared motives of some human or organization are questioned. Still, I feel that it would be worthwhile if we just could pause more to think why people do different things. It can only increase our understanding of humans and how they operate.
The simple process of pausing to ponder and wonder also the motivations of people in different situations can only be beneficial to our general ability to think.