In the famous movie “The Sixth Sense”, the main protagonist, a young boy being treated by a Psychiatrist played by Bruce Willis. There is a point when the boy finally opens up to Bruce Willis when he asks :
“What scares you?”
“I see dead people”
“is it on your dreams?”
“No. I see them walk around. They do not see each other. They only see what they want to see”
Let me make the disclaimer here. If you find the above sequence resembling any experience you had with any live person, it is mere coincidence or maybe not.
On most occasions, we all behave like the dead people in the movie “The Sixth Sense” seeing only what we want to see and ignore the rest.
Psychology defines a few situations where we behave by only seeing what we want to see. Let us understand and appreciate one thing that our brain resources are limited.
Attention is a limited resource.
I am not arguing against Multi-tasking. I am just mentioning how our mind focuses on things that only matter for that particular moment. While one can work on it to improve, every resource that is available at your disposal has a limit. When we see things happening around, we don’t see many things that fall in the blind spot.
Let me try to categorize different scenarios that we may face in life where our attention becomes a barrier
- We see but don’t see :
I was reviewing the terms and conditions sheet shared by one of the customers. The Sales Executive involved in that deal just wanted to get it signed off.
“I cannot agree with this term that we will guarantee supply within 30 days. It depends on order to order. We need to amend these terms.”
“But sir, we have the items in stock. So we don’t need to worry.” Sales Executive hurried.
“Do you mean to say that you will not deal with the Customer in the future?” I asked
“We have all the items in our stock for this order,” he said.
“Have we not experienced delays in shipments from our vendors” I retorted
“Yes. We have faced such situations in the past.” He understood my point and agreed to discuss the amendments with the customer.
“Can I ask you something?” Sales Executive said as I handed over the agreement.
“Your communication is pleasant on many occasions. However, there are times where you become very sarcastic and communicate as if you are on a high pedestal”
“Is it ? I don’t know. I will consciously watch my reactions from now onward” I said.
When I was reflecting on this experience, I realized that few such things fall in the blind spot of my mind. To give an example from my life, I could state the incidence of teacup. I have been placing the teacup without washing it properly despite repeated reminders from my wife. It was falling in the blind spot. I decided to bring to my conscious part by being mindful of what I do in the morning. For the next 6 months I started washing every cup that I see in the house just to ensure that I don’t miss out. Now it is an habit.
In the four stages of competence, the first stage is called unconscious incompetence in which an individual is not even aware that he is incompetent. Similarly, we fail to see things that are otherwise in plain sight for everyone else because we are unaware that such things exist. Our attention is a limited resource. So, our mind blurs out things as unwanted unless it is brought into focus by us consciously.
Check out this video to know more about the type of blindness that we face in our lives(Courtesy BBC/Youtube)
2. We see but ignore
In Psychology, there is a term called Confirmation Bias. We look for information that confirms our logic/belief. Even when we come across credible information that proves our belief as wrong, we tend to overstep and ignore them. My research or analysis technique squarely falls under this category, at least on most occasions. I tend to look for information or a pattern that confirms my conclusion. If the information or the pattern is overwhelming and has the potential to derail my thesis, I would prefer to drop my research than change my conclusion. I am not sure how many of you do that.
The following quote of Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman puts it rightly:
We believe in the story that our mind has etched even if the glaring evidence proves it otherwise. We want to stick to our version of the story. There is nothing wrong with our version of the story as long as it does not cause harm to others. Sometimes, it is better to believe in your story and proceed. This can be a piece of good advice when it comes to a matter of effort in self-development. However, this turns out to be a bad choice in the constrict of social behavior. We tend to apply this logic even in matters that relate to society and science. We refuse to acknowledge the humongous data that disproves our stance or providing the possible existence of the opposite view. This problem gets magnified in the social media world. We tend to look for people who accept our view and enlarge our circle of friends in that segment.
So, next time when someone says “Trump is Bad” or “Trump is Good”, just remember that both may be right from their perspective. The question is whether we open our minds to see the reason for the opposite view or not? When we tread that path to look behind the reason whether we accept an idea or not, we would have started a meaningful conversation.
3. We don’t want to see :
The third category in which we would love to live in a cocoon built-in exclusively for us with the information that supports our beliefs and walls that can prevent any information that negates our belief system. It can also happen with people in our daily life. We tend to create an image of someone based on our first experience. As we hear from other people who have a similar experience, we strengthen our belief and build a wall that stops any positive idea about that person to enter into our mind. It leads us to behave in a completely quirky manner with that person even in normal situations thus creating a negative image about us in their mind. It becomes a loop. One needs to be extra cautious if you are heading an organization at any level. People can easily prime you about other staff members and make you act in such that causes harm to the concerned staff.
I remember having behaved in such a way with one such staff. It was a customer situation where the blame lies in one of the staff, but there was not enough evidence to prove which one. I have created an image in my mind about the two. The first person, let us call her Rosy. My experience in the past was always pleasant. So, her image in my mind was positive. I got confirmation from others as well and this image got cemented in my mind. However, the impression that I had about the second person, let us call her Grace, was not positive. I did not bother to confirm this from anyone else.
Now, I am faced with a situation where I have to choose between the two as to who is wrong. Even though Grace wanted to have a conversation and produce her side of the story, I refused to see her side of the story. The Strong Prejudice in my mind made me ignore checking the facts. I admonished Grace for the mistake. A few months later, Grace resigned. It took a few months for me to realize that we lost one of the valuable employees. All boils down to one decision that I made — not to hear her side of the story. We create strong walls in our minds that blocks us from hearing or seeing the other side of the story.
When I reflect on my life, I could recount more incidents falling in all 3 categories. Some times I was Inattentive to facts that lie in front of me. On some occasions, I was looking only for confirmation even when the facts failed to match my belief system. Finally, refusing to see the other side.
If I have to rephrase the dialogue from Sixth Sense, it would sound like below.
“What scares you?”
“I see dead people”
“Is it on your dreams?”
“No. I see them in me as I walk around, sometimes not knowing what I should see, sometimes seeing only what I wanted to see and many times shunning out things that are not matching my belief system. Because when I do these things, I shut down the possibility of a meaningful conversation thus making it a dead-end to humanity”