Opinion psychology

Week of Wisdom 5: Don’t Tell People What To Do (or What Not To Do)

File:Jordaens Adam and Eve.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Don’t Tell People What To Do (or What Not To Do)

The human mind is innately rebellious. Often, it is said that children are rebellious, but that is not true, everyone is rebellious, and it has everything to do with control.

The loss of control physiologically causes us great stress. In fact, completely different areas of the brain are activated when you approach an activity with a sense of control as opposed to having less control. To achieve a Flow state, an optimal psychological experience, we must feel like we are in control. Even the illusion of control is better than nothing.

That is why conspiracy theorists revel in convoluted explanations about the world. The world is too random and meaningless, that it is better to believe in an unlikely plot to convince oneself that there is order than to accept the truth. They look for smooth narratives of the man behind the strings because it makes them feel that while they may not be in control, at least someone is.

Now, what happens when you tell someone what to do? You threaten their sense of control. You are signaling to them that they are not in control of their destinies, that they are not competent enough to know what they want. You are also challenging them, by saying that you have more control than they do.

The formal educational system commits this obscene error with countless generations. The child is made to feel powerless and useless. Of course, there is value to disciplining children and guiding them, but when taken to an extreme, the child loses belief in themselves.

Plato warned, “Do not train boys to learning by force and harshness, but lead them by what amuses them, so that they may better discover the bent of their minds.”

It is better, if you want to influence people, to ask questions that illuminate consequences. This allows them to think for themselves and feel like they are more in control.

Montaigne said, “To forbid us something is to make us want it.” The same idea can be applied to when you don’t want someone to do something. There is nothing more tempting, for the human being, than to break the rules you set for them. If you tell them to do something, they won’t. If you tell them to not do something, they will.

Mark Twain said, “It was not that Adam ate the apple for the apple’s sake, but because it was forbidden. It would have been better for us – oh infinitely better for us – if the serpent had
been forbidden.”

Even if you don’t want to influence other people, but merely yourself, you are faced with the same problem. You are also made from human stuff, you are rebellious, you crave control, you are multi-sided, complex, and vengeful. If you make strict prohibitions or demands to yourself, then you can be sure, that you will rebel against them. Negotiate with yourself, allow for indulgences, and most importantly, never relinquish a sense of freedom and control from yourself. The smaller the corner you put yourself in, the smaller the chance you will get out of yourself what you wanted.

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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