The term human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics—including ways of thinking, feeling, and acting—which humans tend to have naturally. One of the most natural and perhaps the most overlooked of our human tendencies is our uncanny abilities to rationalize what we do. No matter what it is.
We can always rationalize what we do even if we know that it is bad for us. How can people rationalize smoking, excessive drinking or drugs, overeating when overweight, eating too much junk food, lack of exercise or a laundry list of things deemed bad for our health and wellbeing? Well, we can and do.
We know what is good or bad and we know what is right or wrong. Why do we not choose what is truly in our best interest for the long haul? Who is in control here? We can have an internal conversation with ourselves over whether we should do something or not and too many times our impulsive nature wins. These impulses can be explained to be hard-wired into our emotional makeup. In order to justify our actions, we become very adept in rationalizing.
So often our actions are nothing more than stimulus-response if we carefully and truthfully try to explain why we say and do what we do. If you step back and observe your own behavior you might find this to be truer than you would like to believe.
“Forget dice rolling or boxes of chocolates as metaphors for life.
Think of yourself as a dreaming robot on autopilot, and you'll be
much closer to the truth.”
― Albert-László Barabási, Bursts: The Hidden Pattern
Behind Everything We Do
Our reactions to our external environment are many times done without any forethought or deliberation whatsoever. In conversations we might say things in response to others and the words just flow out of our mouths. So much of what we do is done without a conscious decision ever being made.
Whatever we do or say has to be for a good reason, we tell ourselves. Our actions have to be internally validated, and rationalized because we have a keen sense of self that tells us that we are always justified whether we are right or wrong. Our abilities to rationalize are immeasurable.
The Stimulus Response Theory has been demonstrated quite well with animals. When applied to human beings, I believe it should be the Stimulus/Response/Rationalize Theory. We react to a stimulus and then we rationalize what and why we have done what we’ve done. Many times, we blame the source of the stimuli for what we did and it’s probably more times than not.
Rationalization is our attempt to explain or justify (one's own or another's behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate. Rationalization gives us the excuses necessary for being justified and correct in our choices.
“The science of the mind can only have for its proper goal the
understanding of human nature by every human being, and
through its use, brings peace to every human soul.”
－Alfred Adler, Understanding Human Nature
I find that one of the main reasons that understanding human beings is so perplexing is because of our animal-like stimulus response that can instinctively make us do what we do. Animals do what they do and we clearly understand how instincts control their behaviors.
Human beings are so much more complicated in their behaviors so it is much more difficult to understand how our instincts control us. We are such strange creatures and do some of the strangest things. It is difficult to understand the actions of others but we can always rationalize our own behaviors.
Our egos are always there to rationalize our actions and critique the incorrectness of others. Our inabilities to recognize this fact keeps us trapped in a world of conflicting values and perceptions. The first step to climbing above the world’s craziness is to learn about our human nature and how we truly work.
Only then can we begin to expand our consciousness and make real choices that will lead us on a more intentional and purposeful path. Our rationalizations will then become less satisfactory and less controlling.