• Steve

THE BIGGEST PROBLEM IN MODERN SOCIETY and why it’s not your fault!

As someone who tries to see the best in people, yet will equally challenge the common popular view, I eternally ask why people do certain things. Knowing how and why people make decisions is hugely powerful in sales, marketing and business, however something has been intriguing my mind for some time...

By all possible metrics the world is getting better. Poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour and infant mortality are falling faster than at any other time in human history. The risk of being caught up in a war, subjected to a dictatorship or of dying in a natural disaster is smaller than ever. This is fact (link) yet all we hear is CRISIS in {insert anything here}!

A recent podcast series on Radio4 even asks, 'As a society, why are we so angry?’

Whilst there is no doubt that horrible things still occur, looking objectively, previous generations who lived through World Wars, Black Death, famine, genocide, would not blink at many of the things we become incensed about today. Comparative to things our forefathers faced, the facts tell us we have it pretty good, yet even when we do become angry, the reality is often that when a larger problem comes along such as the sudden death of a loved one, the previous problem (such as a minor annoyance at work) will vanish into insignificance. But why do we do this?

After doing a lot of reading, I found an article from Oliver Burkeman. Within the article Oliver speaks of a study investigating human behaviour called: How would you define a “blue dot”?

In the experiment, participants were shown hundreds of dots in shades from deep purple to deep blue, and asked to say whether each was blue or not. Obviously, the bluer a dot, the more likely people were to classify it as blue. But what’s interesting is what happened when researchers began reducing the prevalence of the blue dots they displayed. The fewer dots that were objectively blue, the broader people’s definition of “blue” became: they started to classify purplish dots that way, too. Their concept of blue expanded, a phenomenon the study authors label “prevalence-induced concept change”.

The study demonstrates that human decision making will always stretch between 0 and 100 regardless of the stimulus. In the absence of any blue dots, the human mind will find them. In the absence of major trauma, our next biggest problem becomes 100.

Read the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jul/20/things-getting-worse-or-feel-that-way

As a comparator to global problems; since we have existed as a species we have been continuously solving many of humanity’s biggest problems. We have been removing the blue dots.

In his book The Chimp Paradox, Prof Steve Peters highlights the struggle between the different parts of our brain, and that the most powerful part of our brain is the fight or flight reflex to keep us alive. The rational part of our brain cannot compete in a wrestling match with fight or flight, so when you have something annoying you, rather than fight it, listen to it, embrace it, then let it go. This internal turmoil is not judgement on your mental stability, but hardwired via millions of years to keep us as a species alive.

Linking back to the blue dot study, it is evolution that awarded humans this part of our brain. It is an inbuilt curse of human evolution that we have parts of our brain which we can not negotiate with, reason with or control. Nature has given us this to keep our species evolving. It is to evolution’s benefit to keep resetting our risk index. Even when we remove the blue dots, the index resets. Evolution is keeping us angry. As such, when the world gets angry, even over something silly, it is not actually our fault.

The solution? 

Once we realise that this curse on the human species is not our fault, to live happier lives the trick is to rationalise and compare small day-to-day problems with extreme issues such as the pain of losing a loved one. When you keep this in mind, the small things remain small, you will find it easier to let these things go, and you will actually become happier.

The purpose of this article is not to belittle modern problems, but actually the opposite. We should celebrate the things we have, whilst we have them. If you have a healthy family, but you are frustrated at being overlooked at work; embrace the things you do have and celebrate whilst you have them. One day they could be gone and when that happens, all of your previous problems won't matter.

If you are suffering at the moment, try not to be too hard on yourself either. This is nature's cruel trick on all of us, it is not your fault, but know there is always someone there to listen.

As a topic which has fascinated me for some time, it is always reassuring when you find that something is not your fault, nor is the world is full of bad people. Quite the opposite. We often get tricked into thinking the world is worse than it is. We should appreciate what we have, enjoy it whilst we have it, but still never stop fighting to make it better!

All thoughts and viewpoints my own.

What do you think? These articles are written to inspire discussion and comment on social issues, but also provide thought leadership on interesting topics. Please comment below to join the conversation.

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