October 18, 2015

Rational or Rationalization?

I'm interested in personal narratives on the interface of Rational vs Rationalization. And in that spirit, I will bear all to those I see as kindred spirits (or aligned patterns of thought)
One of the chapters of HPMOR that struck me emotionally and literally left me breathless was on "How to Lose." I found my brain flashing back to various moments in my life where I refused to lose, and in doing so, lost something that mattered more. It is hard for people who try to adopt principles of optimization to lose graciously and when self-hatred is involved, it becomes a Doom Loop spiraling around self-blame, anger and excuse-seeking for imperfections. In other words, in the past, when I thought I could do better, I became aggressively angry and hostile, especially if my intellectual ego was on the line.
Cue pre-med. I was the sort of college student you might have met in organic chemistry, the quietly bright and strategic student angling for a way in to a successful career (not at any cost, but focused). And I failed to get in.
Not being admitted to medical school was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. In a period of a year, I was able to develop emotionally and step away from the meritocracy concept that I was "owed" something prestigious simply because I was intelligent. I found someone that made me happy for the first time in my life and she taught me that there's no point in driving yourself to a point of misery. I ought to seek a happy life for my own sake. I did apply for medical school again, and this time I succeeded -- but my path had changed for the better. I wasn't doing it for me (although I was curious to figure out how I worked as a human)... I was pursuing a career that I found was a calling for me to learn the life stories of new people every 15-20 minutes of my day. I didn't become the medical student "gunner" that would shoot other students down to look good myself. I always tried to do what was best for my patients and the medical team. I attribute a lot of this to the wisdom of the admission committees who turned me down the first time when they recognized that I needed to take time to mature and become ready for the next step.
Argyris has a great article on the Doom Loop for Professionals. https://hbr.org/1991/05/teaching-smart-people-how-to-learn
Professionals embody the learning dilemma: they are enthusiastic about continuous improvement—and often the biggest obstacle to its success. What’s more, most theories-in-use rest on the same set of governing values. There seems to be a universal human tendency to design one’s actions consistently according to four basic values: 1. To remain in unilateral control; 2. To maximize “winning” and minimize “losing”; 3. To suppress negative feelings; and 4. To be as “rational” as possible—by which people mean defining clear objectives and evaluating their behavior in terms of whether or not they have achieved them. The purpose of all these values is to avoid embarrassment or threat, feeling vulnerable or incompetent. In this respect, the master program that most people use is profoundly defensive. Defensive reasoning encourages individuals to keep private the premises, inferences, and conclusions that shape their behavior and to avoid testing them in a truly independent, objective fashion.
Rather than opening up, professionals are more likely to shut down after losing BECAUSE THEY ARE ACCUSTOMED TO SUCCEEDING. They don't know how to lose with grace and they don't know how to deal with the shame/guilt/anger/embarrassment To be good at losing, we need to practice losing well. And losing often.
I am an ENTP with the strongest traits of iNtuition and Thinking. This means that I can see the big picture and strategize very well. But when I am with my fiancee, an ISFJ (polar opposite personality type) we will often clash, like Petunia and Michael Evans-Verres -- one trying to make the other feel guilty, or feel stupid. Once, in an argument, I even heard myself say "when I feel strong emotions of anger, I find that distancing myself from it through rational processes calms me down (although she would just say that it makes me colder and more robotic) and... that's rationalization."
That slip of the tongue revealed to me that I wasn't being rational. I was rationalizing. I was using a defense mechanism to avoid real issues and instead, I was trying to reinterpret my behaviors in the light of a more palatable "reasoning" process. Using rationalization makes her dislike the words "right" or "rational" because as a Feeler, she associates these words with the negative connotations of argument and disagreement.
True Reasoning moves beyond the petty boundaries of quibbles with a loved one. Don't Rationalize, people of Rationalia! Optimize your relationships and don't discount the strength of love.