The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we are not aware of and do not understand.” George Herbert Mead
The other day I was talking to an elderly, accomplished, and well-educated man, who is a legend in his own mind. He came unglued about the “socialist” country Obama was creating with all the bailouts. His anger was irrational and visceral. Of course, he was carrying Rush Limbaugh’s water and talking points. This is a guy who rarely questions his beliefs. I have noticed time and time again his inability to give credit to other people’s ideas and his focus on the peripheral. Now some people might call this narcissism or self-centered. I call it irrational thinking and unconscious incompetence (you don’t know what you don’t know).
What does research in psychology tell us about self-defeating and irrational thinking of this kind?
1. It turns other people off and you come across as a “know it all”
2. They are stuck with old tapes and eyes that are closed to new points of view.
3. Relationships are all self-centered and manipulative. There objective in a conversation is to convince you they are right and, oh by the way, you stupid, wrong or ignorant. The key communication tools used are personalization, nasty verbal attacks and put downs.
4. Professional and/or social stature makes opinions more accurate and powerful. This is known as the “Halo Effect”
My view is that people who think and act this way are basically unhappy and lonely folks. What could be their source of unhappiness? Dr. Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational Emotive Therapy, provides a coherent explanation for this type of thinking and behavior. Now a little background on Dr. Albert Ellis. He established Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) back in the late 1950″s. RET was one of the first the cognitive behavior therapies. RET’s basic principle is that our behaviors ( good and bad) stem from our thinking, mindset, and reactions to situations and experiences.
The cornerstone of this behavioral change philosophy is the ABC principle: A is for activating experiences, such as economic troubles, job loss, health issues, car not working, baby not sleeping, authoritarian boss and all the many things we point to as the sources of our unhappiness. B stands for beliefs, especially the irrational, self-defeating ideas or self-talk. These are the actual sources of our unhappiness. C is for consequences, the negative emotions such as anxiety, irritability, depression, worry, and anger which come from our distorted thinking and beliefs.
Although the activating situations and experiences may be quite real and have caused real anxiety and pain, it is our irrational beliefs that create long-term psychological and interpersonal issues! The question becomes–How do we turn this circumstances around so as to have more effective and positive interaction with others and happiness for self ? You must learn to STOP and challenge your thinking, beliefs and self-talk. Ultimately, you need to be more reflective and diagnostic in assessing how rational thoughts and behavior impact self and others. If you practice the STOP, CHALLENGE, THINK, and then RESPOND technique you will learn to enjoy the positive psychological effects of rational beliefs, emotions and behavior.
What are some other ideas that work for you in being more rational and thoughtful when communicating with irrational and ego-centric people?