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Understanding Egocentric Thinking

Egocentric thinking emerges from our innate human tendency to see the world from a narrow self-serving perspective. We naturally think of the world in terms of how it can serve us. Our instinct is to continually operate within the world, to manipulate situations and people, in accordance with our selfish interests.

At the same time, we naturally assume that our thinking is rational. No matter how irrational or destructive our thinking is, when we are operating from an egocentric perspective, we see our thinking as reasonable. Our thinking seems to us to be right, true, good, and justifiable. Our egocentric nature, therefore, creates perhaps the most formidable barrier to critical thinking.

We inherit from our childhood the sense that we have basically figured out the truth about the world. We naturally believe in our sense of who and what we are. Therefore, if we behave or think irrationally, we are, in a sense, victims of the beliefs and thought processes we have developed through life (because egocentric thinking is commanding us).

As we age, our rational capacities develop to some extent. We come to think more reasonably in some areas of our lives. This can come from explicit instruction or experience. If we are in an environment that models reasonable behavior, we become more reasonable. Yet it is hard to imagine making significant inroads into egocentric thinking unless we become explicitly aware of it and learn how to undermine or short-circuit it in some way. The human mind can think irrationally in too many ways while masking itself within a facade of reasonability.

Test the Idea
Beginning to Understand Egocentric Thinking

Try to think of a disagreement you were in recently in which you now realize that you were not fair-mindedly listening to the views of someone else. Perhaps you were defensive during the conversation, or were trying to dominate the other person. You were not trying to see the situation from the perspective of the person with whom you were interacting. At the time, however, you believed that you were being reasonable. Now you realize that you were being close-minded. Complete these statements:

  1. The situation was as follows…

  2. My behavior/thinking in the situation was as follows…

  3. I now realize that I was close-minded because…

If you cannot think of an example, think of a situation that you were in recently in which someone else was being close-minded. Also, ask yourself why you cannot think of any examples of close-mindedness on your part.

The mere appearance of rationality, of course, is not equivalent to its genuine presence. And, unfortunately, much rational adult behavior is at root, egocentric or sociocentric. This stems, in part, from the fact that people generally do not have a clear understanding of how the human mind functions. Most important, they fail to realize that thinking, if left to itself, is inherently flawed with prejudices, half-truths, biases, vagueness, arrogance, and the like

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