Thought Experiment

Here’s a thought experiment: how would you act if your opinion about something specific was reversed?

I don’t mean your opinion about general concepts, like freedom or movies or food.  I mean specific things.  How would you behave differently if you disliked the people you like, and liked the people you avoid?  How might you act if you hated those you loved?  How might you act if your favorite past times were things you wanted to avoid?

This can be taken to extremes, but I’d urge you to avoid that.  Instead, consider some examples: there is a person in your workplace that you don’t like.  Maybe for a valid reason, maybe for an unfair reason.  Whatever the case, you don’t care for that person and you behave a certain way.  How would you act if you liked them?  Maybe not as buddy-buddy friends, but perhaps simply as a person who brightened your day?  How would you speak to them differently?  Or would you?

Our relationships with others are often defined not by a singular instance but by momentum.  An interaction starts us going in one direction with a person and the more we interact with them, sheer habit pushes that on.  We dislike a person because we’re in the habit of disliking them.  But it can often go the other way.  If we act like we like a person, we can come to like them.

It’s dangerous advice, “Fake it until you make it”.  If you pretend to be or do something enough, you will become that.  Are you being dishonest with yourself, or are you trying to course-correct a behavior?  There’s no hard and fast rule.  It’s a case-by-case situation.  But that’s why thought experiments like this can be so valuable.  Are you honestly behaving the way you want?  Or you being honest with yourself now?  Or are you letting a single bad moment define a relationship?

This goes the other way, too.  If you like a person and behave a certain way, what if you didn’t like them.  How would you behave?  This can help expose the favoritism that you operate under, that you show to those around you.  You needn’t necessarily do anything about that.  We have favorites for a reason, and there’s nothing wrong with it.  But it can be shocking to realize who you show favoritism too.  And why.  If you realize you show one coworker preference over others, try figuring out why.  Is it because they are clever and personal?  Or is it physical attraction?  Some of the most socially conscious men can be shocked to discover their own sexist behaviors.  But they can’t be remedied if they aren’t identified.

Broaden this experiment.  Take your country.  Do you have pride in your country?  Are you patriotic?  Are you nationalistic?  What if you thought your country was bad?  Would you act differently?  Would you start to vote, or would you stop voting?  Would you leave immediately, or would you invest in ways you don’t currently?

There is a long-standing believe in my country, the United States of America, that it is the best country in the world.  I concur, but I also know that residents of other countries (rightly) feel that their countries are the best.  I don’t care to get into those debates.  I like to fall back on the old Strong First motto of ‘I don’t know that you’re wrong, but I know I’m right’.  I love my country but I am not blind to its many, many ills.  Some of those ills are deeply ingrained and so entrenched, that require an entire culture shift (police brutality against minorities, especially black communities).  Others aren’t so much entrenched as merely unwisely tolerated (Nazis).  But what if I disliked my country rather than loved it?  How might I behave differently?

The goal of this exercise is to be honest.  You needn’t post your answers or share them anywhere.  You need just be honest with yourself.  Because if your answer is that you would change your behavior, then you don’t really love your country.  You love the prosperity your country provides, you love the services your country makes possible, you love aspects of your country, but you don’t love it as a whole.  To love it as a whole, you have to see and confront its weaknesses and shortcomings.  You have to accept that it isn’t perfect and work to make it better.  No country will ever be perfect but any country can always be better.

The distinction between loving a country and loving what a country does for you might be subtle but it is important.  With the first, you love the whole.  With the second, you love what you get.  You love what you are given.  That isn’t love; that’s greed.

Consider taking a moment to hate your country and see how you would behave.  What would you do differently?

Like and hate, love and loathe, our preferences seem binary, but they are in fact often rooted in more complicated matters.  It’s worth flipping our preferences, at least momentarily, to explore how we might be different.  Malcolm Forbes said famously, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him”.  The same can be said for how a person treats those for whom they lack a positive opinion.  If your approval a person is necessary for you to treat a person or a thing considerately, you may want to re-evaluate some of your behaviors.

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Author: Robert V Aldrich

Author. Speaker. Cancer Researcher. Martial Artist. Illustrator. Cat dad. Nerd.

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