How to Understand People Better

By | 04/01/2016

To understand how people truly are, you first must avoid the mistake of assessing them taking ourselves as a frame of reference. It’s a huge mistake to think, “In her place, I’d act in this way or that.” The truth is, you’re not her and the way each of you are and think are not necessarily the same. We have to keep away from this course of thought and be objective when trying to understand someone else’s psyche.

To truly understand someone else, one must pay attention to their actions, gestures, facial and body language. We can get to know a lot about a person by the way the move around at home or pick up a newspaper, if they are attentive to others’ needs, their smile, how easily they get annoyed or how they react when they are angry – this kind of behavior. These traits are particularly relevant when the person does not know they’re being watched and is not trying to impress anyone. It is very important to be objective, which depends on the observer’s very specific criteria.

Of course, you can know a lot from people from their feelings: their ability to love and devote themselves to others, how they deal with jealousy, how they behave when they are envious – in short, by noticing if they have their emotions in check or not.

Recently, I noticed something very important, which is that more selfish people – the ones who receive more than they give and, therefore, depend more on others – are more realistic and objective when analyzing how the people who surround them truly are. They try to get close to more generous people, who can give them what they need. They know perfectly well that these generous people feel a lot of guilt and they can use this feeling to make them unable to resist, and say “yes” even when they wanted to say “no.” It’s interesting, because selfish people aren’t empathetic; they can’t put themselves in someone else’s shoes. However, they are objective and realistic when assessing other people. This impels me to conclude that being empathetic and putting oneself in someone else’s shoes to understand them might lead to inaccuracies much worse than those made by straightforward observation.

More generous people, who – because of their vanity or an inability to deal with their excessive guilt – give more than they get, are the ones who make the most mistakes when evaluating other people. They empathize by imagining that other people are just like them and that perspective dims their objectivity. They should understand that not all human beings are as similar to them as they’d like. True empathy should resemble “hacking,” inasmuch as we should try to enter other people’s brains evenhandedly and try to understand how they work. Then they’d realize, for instance, that more selfish people don’t feel guilt and have no shame in making drama to provoke guilt on generous people. They’d realize that the absence of guilt makes some people vastly different from them. More selfish people lie easily and make up sob stories, with the only intention of inducing people who are more generous, through emotional blackmail to act according to their selfish wishes and satisfy their needs and desires.

We should clearly see that realism and objectivity are good tools to use when exploring the world, and that people should be evaluated based on facts, not ideas.

More generous people are idealistic on both senses of the word: their beliefs are grounded in conjecture instead of fact, and they also tend to see beauty and virtue where none exist: they believe that, deep down, everyone is good and has a heart of gold.

Freud’s contention that we all have a superego, which is an internalized moral compass, comes from generalizations he made by taking himself and a few other people as a frame of reference. We have to be realistic and objective: a good half of humankind is incapable of experiencing guilt. So, anyone who wants to learn how to know people better should choose facts over ideas. Realism only turns into pessimism at first, or for to those used to a world of ideas where everything is beautiful and, especially, exists according to their tastes and desires.

Tradução: Amanda Morris