Sunday, February 13, 2011

Not the start of an advice column...

This is my first post here, and I want to thank Donald Wharton for the invitation to post here. I am thoroughly a secularist, a self-confirmed atheist for about 17 years, but I don’t consider myself to be a capitol "h" Humanist. I do generally agree, however, with the International Humanist and Ethical Union's Minimum Statement on Humanism. I just thought that should be stated here.

As my first post, I decided to write something personal, in the sort of detached way I'm willing to discuss personal things. I’ve taken a few simple insights presented by neuroscience, specifically the notions presented in “On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not” by Robert A. Burton and the results of an experiment published in “Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things" by Richard Wiseman. It is not solely based on these books, but they’ve provided the most memorable examples for me to draw from.

From the former I learned that the feeling I have that I am right is largely that, an emotional state. It is mentally separated from the facts. From the latter I learned that memories can easily be manipulated, even to the point where one will fabricate memories whole cloth from mere suggestion, and have the feeling that that memory is real.

With these two ideas in mind, I’ve tried to do a little problem solving with one of the most pervasive of obstacles in life - an argument with one’s significant other. I made the following deal with my wife whenever an issue of what words were said arises:

“We do not have a record of who said what. I believe that I said (or understood you to say) A, but you believe I said (or understood me to say) B. We’re both sincere in our beliefs that this is how things occurred, and they are at odds with one another. Because there is no objective record to consult, we must agree that this cannot be resolved by discussion. Therefore, we have to agree that it cannot now be known and move on to what can be known and resolved."

What I did not realize, when I first proposed this notion, was that my wife thought it was just a way for me to “get away” with not admitting I was wrong. It wasn’t until I brought it up again in another disagreement that she conveyed that misunderstanding and I was able to resolve that this solution allowed for neither party to admit an error of memory, because no error could be proven - we were both equally right and wrong on the subject, because we both used the same faulty hardware to parse the data (brains).

As “he said/she said” arguments tend to be a digression from the actual source of conflict, I think my resolution allows for focus to return to the root problem.

This proposal, of course, implies that both parties actually want to resolve issues and be fair with one another -- not the case in many relationships.

Though I have no intention of doing a series of blogs on relationships, I'd still be curious to hear of practical or clever solutions to daily problems that readers have drawn from the sciences.


Don Wharton said...

Kevin, This is a very thoughtful post. It is amazing how easiy it can be if people simply use the rules of evidence to evaluate the possible misconceptions that we might have. Lee and I are now so used to solving our conflicts in about 15 seconds that we almost have a race to see who can find the confusion first.

Anonymous said...

Good relationship advice is a tool of Satan.