How People Tend To Think And Respond

Bald EagleIn our book club right now, we are reading  Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language by Robert J. Gula. It's very interesting as it goes through emotional language and logical fallacies in several ways that make them easier to understand. Robert Gula wrote the book in the 1970's which is interesting in its nostalgic examples.

But what I wanted to share with you was something from chapter 1 that I thought was quite valuable:
First, some general principles. Let’s not call them laws; and since they’re not particularly original, I won’t attach my name to them. They are merely a description of patterns that seem to characterize the ways that people tend to respond and think. For example, people:

  1. tend to believe what they want to believe.

  2. tend to project their own biases or experiences upon situations.

  3. tend to generalize from a specific event.

  4. tend to get personally involved in the analysis of an issue and tend to let their feelings overcome a sense of objectivity.

  5. are not good listeners. They hear selectively. They often hear only what they want to hear.

  6. are eager to rationalize.

  7. are often unable to distinguish what is relevant from what is irrelevant.

  8. are easily diverted from the specific issue at hand.

  9. are usually unwilling to explore thoroughly the ramifications of a topic; tend to oversimplify.

  10. often judge from appearances. They observe something, misinterpret what they observe, and make terrible errors in judgment.

  11. often simply don’t know what they are talking about, especially in matters of general discussion. They rarely think carefully before they speak, but they allow their feelings, prejudices, biases, likes, dislikes, hopes and frustrations to supersede careful thinking.

  12. rarely act according to a set of consistent standards. Rarely do they examine the evidence and then form a conclusion. Rather they tend to do whatever they want to do and to believe whatever they want to believe and then find whatever evidence will support their actions or their beliefs. They often think selectively: in evaluating a situation they are eager to find reasons to support what they want to support and they are just as eager to ignore or disregard reasons that don’t support what they want.

  13. often do not say what they mean, and often do not mean what they say.

To these principles, let’s add four observations cited by J.A.C. Brown in his Techniques of Persuasion: “Most people want to feel that issues are simple rather than complex, want to have their prejudices confirmed, want to feel that they “belong” with the implication that others do not, and need to pinpoint an enemy to blame for their frustrations.”

The above comments may seem jaundiced. They are not meant to be. They are not even meant to be critical or judgmental. They merely suggest that it is a natural human tendency to be subjective rather than objective and that the untrained mind will usually take the path of least resistance. The path of least resistance is rarely through reason.

Page 4-5 of Nonsense: Red Herrings, Straw Men and Sacred Cows: How We Abuse Logic in Our Everyday Language by Robert J. Gula.

When I first read the list and kept agreeing with it, I thought it was cynical and jaded. I thought I was the same. But I agree with Mr. Gula. It isn't meant in a nasty way at all. It seems it's just the way our minds work. If we understand that, it gives us an advantage for working with our own thoughts and brains, as well as insight into how others form beliefs, rationales, ethics and much more.

I have quite a few friends who are humanists. My good friend Jenny believes that people try to be the best they can be. My experience of humanity has not been so rosy. I think I agree with Mr. Gula. Most people take the path of least resistance, and that path rarely has anything to do with reason. Or aspiring to the greater good of humanity.

Feel free to comment below with how jaded and cynical I am. :P  But I also wouldn't mind hearing from you if you agree. :)


  1. I agree with you, mostly. There are times when I read or hear about something or someone good and noble, which is cheering, but in the main I find little to be optimistic about. People, en masse, are selfish, combative, uncooperative and just plain unpleasant (and I don't exclude myself here).

    Or maybe I'm just having a bad day...

  2. And I agree with you, Joules. There are times when someone does something noble, good and wonderful. When that happens I am quite happy. But even if this happened a thousand times per day around the world, that's still a whole hell of a lot of people being selfish, self absorbed and basically "asleep at the wheel".

    Oh, good point, I'm not excluding myself either. I can be quite curmudgeonly to say the least. :P

    I hope your day gets better.

  3. This list rings true, and attests to the fact that humans are imperfect. People are not computers. We are influenced by our past experiences and emotions and do not always react logically or consistently. I do tell myself that everyone is doing the best they are capable of in the given moment. I often say this when I am getting frustrated with people. Some folks do indeed need to try harder, and many do to seem to be trying at all. It helps my peace of mind to focus on my own actions and to try not to judge others too harshly. I do this primarily because I am selfish and want to be happy. (Big smile!)