THEY DESERVE PAIN We move from curious observations to harsh judgments BY: Troy Murphy | September 2016
We skillfully attempt to navigate daily choices, evaluating opportunities, avoiding dangerous risks, and ultimately choosing what is best. Sometimes the decision process is meticulously and consciously evaluated; other times largely automatic and unconscious. Either way, we want to do what is best for us. Why do we still make so many poor decisions? Many avenues followed are new. We enter unexplored territory—at least not personally explored.
We use associations from past experiences and observations to avoid pain and experience pleasure. Some people are adept at creating associations. Some carefully observe, extracting the pertinent behaviors and the natural consequences of those behaviors, then artfully apply the gained wisdom to their own lives. We all have opportunities to gain wisdom through the observation of others—successes and failures. We learn to avoid hurts and enjoy success, not from painful and drawn out experience but through simple observation.
I people watch. I watch parents interact with children. I watch passengers respond to TSA searches. I watch college football players celebrate a win. Events and corresponding reactions fascinate me. I’m curiously learning human emotions, reaction and behavior.
There’s a line that’s easy to cross. I’ve seen it crossed by others, and even myself. We cross this line when we slip from curious observations to engaging in harsh judgment. The motivational reasons behind behaviors are complex, far beyond the ability of an uninvolved observer to identify. We may note unhealthy behaviors but taking the momentous leap to critically accusing another person as “bad” crosses the line of decency.
By entertaining condescending views of others, we self-righteously—and very subjectively—endow ourselves as superior. These are status judgments. “I am better than this person.” The status judgment is self-promoted superiority. Critical value judgment distracts attention from more productive focus on securing wisdom to combat personal shortcomings. Our blatant and silent judgments signal personal insecurity, and misdirected attention.
Genetics and experience intermingle to form character. Underlying feelings motivate behaviors, when the feelings are acted upon the actions modify future feelings by adding to experience and associations. Overtime, similar genetics but much different experiences multiplies into very different motivations to act. In other words, the values of different options in a choice differ between people based upon past experience; thus feelings motivating action differ. When the feeling is different, the motivation to pursue one course over another is also different. While outwardly the choice appears the same, the underlying complexity of motivating feelings, and perceptions create a vastly different weight to the available options, and often the availability of more or less options to choose from.
My hurt is personally relevant, motivating personal action. While personal pain is very salient, pain of someone outside our close circle of contacts goes relatively unnoticed. But in the larger scheme of life, my pain doesn’t matter; it’s of no greater importance than the pain of someone else. We all feel pain, and we all cry for relief. Whether pain is felt by a “mean” co-worker, a death-row inmate, an alcoholic, or a wealthy man in his luxurious house on top of the hill, it’s still pain and it still hurts.
We can still observe and learn; but our connection to others transforms when we embrace universal empathy for human suffering and mindfully, by acknowledging and challenging dismissing retributive thoughts to suffering. We have no right to declare, “they deserve what they got.”