What we really doFri, 7th Nov '08, 6:20 am::

I am a firm believer in humanity and thoroughly believe that most people want to be good people and do the right things. Though my belief in humanity is challenged on a daily basis by people all around me, I try to remain positive and do my best to identify the core causes of why people act in negative manners. I live a modestly typical modern life with a job, studies, and a wife. I have my own unique talents and skills but so does everyone else. We are all just trying to live our lives and do the right things. But we often don't. Why we don't do the right things all the time is a question that has intrigued me forever and I feel I am closer to the answer today than I have ever been and hence feel the compulsion to share it.

We all have problems, tons and tons of them. Thankfully, I've had very few problems related to money, academics, job performance, or health. But just like everyone else I know, I've had more than my fill of people problems. A fair share of the problems are because of certain, specific people in our lives that we just cannot get rid of. From neighbors that annoy us to coworkers that bother us, from classmates that harass us to relatives that humiliate us, these are problems that could be solved if those imbeciles would just listen to us! But until very recently, they never listened to me no matter how well I argued my case from all points of views, including theirs. This used to frustrate and stress me out to no ends.

I feel things are different now because over the past year or so, I've had fewer and fewer long-term problems with people. I've been able to resolve a lot of conflicts without making any major sacrifices or compromises. The key was to change my entire problem-solving system that I had been clutching on to since the day I was born. No biggie.

While it may seem strange, solving real life people problems is not very different from solving math equations. If x + 3 = 10, we can solve for x and arrive at the correct answer of 7 by calculating what 10 - 3 is. We were given one piece of fact and we had to determine the missing piece of information. We did this by looking at the problem and making some judgments on how to get to the answer. Had we done 3 - 10 or 10 + 3, we would have arrived at an incorrect answer. The problems we face in our daily life are closer to solving the more complex variety of simultaneous equations and linear algebra. We are given a bunch of facts, with many missing pieces, and we have to identify every missing piece of fact before we can make a proper judgment.

Say you start a new job, every person in your department seems like an absolute disaster, and you are supposed to fix it all. That's real life. But it's not much different from a math problem - you are given a lot of facts but not all of them are explicitly mentioned and now you have to make up your mind to do the right thing. Unfortunately, despite your best attempts, in the end it turns out that you royally screwed it up. What happened there? Here's how I see our judgment-making, acting-taking system:

We will never have all the facts on any situation or person. You can never know everything about the teammate who yelled at you even though you did all your work because even the teammate doesn't know himself that well. What you can do, is find out more about the person and where their point-of-view originates. The more we know the facts behind someone's action, the easier it is for us to form a rational judgment that does not frustrate or stress us out. In this case, we might learn that the teammate has anger issues, lack of self-confidence, and a fear of failure that makes him extremely stressed when things don't go as planned. Upon realizing this, we are not supposed to form an opinion of him as an angry, scared person and then become emotionally defensive to everything he says but rather, form a rational judgment that lets us deal with this person without exacerbating the conflict any further. We will never have an easy time dealing with this person and it will always take extra work from our end. However, if we make our judgment based on facts and not our opinions, feelings, or emotions on this person, it will be easier for us in the long-run.

In addition to judging others, we judge ourselves. A LOT. If something goes wrong, the first person that most everyone blames is themselves. And we are often our worst and harshest critics. Once again, we do it because we have formed opinions of ourselves and attached a lot of emotions to our personalities, quirks, and deficiencies. If you said something ridiculously stupid during a company meeting or even a dinner date, you cannot blame yourself forever as being a stupid person. What you should do is realize the fact that you were extremely nervous, you were not prepared, and you had a lot of things going on in your mind when you said all that. If that is the case, there's a fix for it. Do something to calm yourself down, prepare in advance, and work on blocking out everything other than what you are concentrating on. It's not easy but it's possible. So there's hope for you. Don't go about blaming yourself for days, weeks, and months for one trifling incident.

Next time you realize you are in a problem ask yourself is this is a people-problem and if so, stop yourself from thinking any further about your opinions or feelings towards the persons involved. Instead, try to honestly find out their personality, background, and situation. Then try to make your decisions. It is not easy. The person could be your mother or wife. It could be your boss who can fire you on a whim. Or it could be someone you truly respect but are also very scared of. Regardless of who the person is, you have to get more facts on their story before you decide how to act. If your final courage of action involves walking into the CEO's office and spouting off 10 things on why the new manager needs to be fired, you are doing it wrong and should go back to the "Get Facts" section again. I'm sure the new manager needs to be fired but the course of action you decided on is not the calm, rational method that will help the CEO see your point-of-view.

In the end, if your final judgment frustrates you instead of encouraging you to take appropriate action, you need to get more facts and revise your judgment. Nobody else will do this for you, except you. So get on it already.

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