Key Idea #5: We Must Become Sensitive to the Egocentrism of Those Around Us
Because human beings are, by nature, egocentric and few are aware of how to exercise control over their egocentric thinking, it is important that we develop the ability to recognize egocentrism in the thinking of those around us. We must recognize, though, that even highly egocentric people sometimes act rationally, so we must be careful not to stereotype. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect that everyone will behave irrationally sometimes, so we must learn to evaluate behavior in an open-minded, yet realistic, way. When we understand the logic of egocentrism, when we become adept at identifying its self-serving patterns, we can begin to master it.
We draw a distinction between attacking our own irrationality and attacking that of others. Often with others we must bite our tongue, as it were, and distance ourselves from people who are fundamentally irrational. Or, at least, we must learn to deal with their egocentrism indirectly. Few people will thank us for pointing out egocentrism in their thinking. The more egocentric people are, the more resistant they are to owning it. The more power egocentric people have, the more dangerous they are. As rational persons, then, we learn to better deal with the irrationality of others rather than be controlled or manipulated by it.
When thinking irrationally, people find it difficult to think within the perspective of another. We unconsciously refuse to consider information that contradicts our ego-centered views. We unconsciously pursue purposes and goals that are not justifiable. We use assumptions in our thinking that are based in our own prejudices and biases. Unknowingly, we are systematically engaging in self-deception to avoid recognizing our egocentrism in operation.
Another problem relevant to dealing with the egocentric reactions of others is our own egocentric tendency. When we interact with others who are relating to us egocentrically, our own irrational nature is easily stimulated into action or, to put it more bluntly, "our buttons are easily pushed." When others relate to us in an ego-centered way, violating our rights and or ignoring our legitimate needs, our own native egocentrism will likely assert itself. Ego will meet ego in a struggle for power. When this happens, everyone loses. We therefore must anticipate our own egocentric reactions and come up with the appropriate rational thinking to deal with it.
Once we are aware that humans are naturally egocentric, and that most people are unaware of their native egocentrism, we can conclude that, in any given situation, we may well be interacting with the egocentric rather than the rational dimensions of those persons' minds. We therefore can question whether they are presenting rational ideas and pursuing rational purposes, or whether they are operating with irrational motives of which they are unaware. We will not take for granted that others are relating to us in good faith. Rather, we will observe their behavior carefully to determine what their behavior actually implies.
Moreover, because we know that our irrational nature is easily activated by irrationality in others, we can carefully observe and assess our own thinking to ensure that we do not become irrational in dealing with others who are egocentric. We will be on the lookout for our own ego-centered thinking, and when we recognize it, we will take steps to "wrestle it down" and refuse to be drawn into irrational games—whether initiated by others or by our own egocentric tendencies. When we realize we are dealing with an irrational person, we will not let that person's irrationality summon our irrational nature. We will refuse to be controlled by the unreasonable behavior of others.
Strategically, the best thing to do is to avoid contact with highly egocentric people whenever possible. When we find ourselves deeply involved with that sort of person, we should seek a way to disengage ourselves when possible. When disengagement is not possible, we should minimize contact or act in such a way as to minimize stimulating their ego.
We can minimize the stimulation to a person's ego by recognizing the conditions under which most highly egocentric reactions take place—namely, when people feel threatened, humiliated, or shamed, or when their vested interest or self-image is significantly involved. By getting into the habit of reconstructing in our own minds the point of view of others, and therefore of frequently thinking within the perspective of others, it is possible to anticipate many of the egocentric reactions of those around us. We then can choose a course of action that sidesteps many of the land mines of human egocentrism.