To begin to take thinking seriously, you must first recognize the inherently flawed nature of human thought in its “normal” state. Put another way, without active intervention, human thinking naturally develops problems. For example, humans are prejudiced. We stereotype one another. We are often hypocritical. We sometimes justify in our own minds policies and practices that result in stealing, killing, and torture. We often ignore important problems that we could, with determination and good thinking, solve—problems such as world hunger, poverty, and homelessness.
What is more, when we behave irrationally, our behavior usually seems reasonable to us. When challenged, the mind says (to itself ), “Why are these people giving me a hard time? I’m just doing what makes sense. Any reasonable
person would see that!” In short, we naturally think that our thinking is fully justified. As far as we can tell, we are only doing what is right and proper and reasonable. Any fleeting thoughts suggesting that we might be at fault typically are overcome by more powerful self-justifying thoughts: “I don’t mean any harm. I’m just! I’m fair! It’s the others who are wrong!”
It is important to recognize this self-justifying nature of the human mind as its natural state. In other words, humans don’t have to learn selfjustifying, self-serving, self-deceptive thinking and behavior. These patterns are innate in every one of us. How does self-deception work in the mind? In other words, how can it be that we can see ourselves as right even when readily available evidence proves us wrong? One powerful reason is the mind’s native ability to represent unreasonable thoughts as perfectly reasonable. Indeed, this is perhaps the most significant reason that humans fail to recognize their own irrationality.
For example, consider the female supervisor who, after interviewing both male and female applicants, always hires women2. This supervisor considers herself unbiased and objective. When asked why she hires only female employees, she most likely would give reasons to support her decisions— facts, for example, about the applicants’ work experiences , skills, and so forth. In supporting her hiring decisions, she would see herself as even-handed, as simply trying to hire the best employees for the job. Indeed, the only way she can feel justified in her own mind is to see herself as behaving objectively. In other words, biased thinking appears to the mind as dispassionate, unprejudiced, impartial thinking. We don’t see ourselves as wrong. Rather, we see ourselves as right, as doing what is most reasonable in the situation, even when we are dead wrong.
Consider the police officer who often uses excessive force during arrests. This officer likely sees himself as giving criminals what they deserve, getting them off the streets so they can’t harm innocent people. He couldn’t act in this way if he recognized the role that prejudice and the desire for power were playing in his thinking, if he could see that he was irrationally using unnecessary power and force over others who were unable to defend themselves. In his own mind he is professional and just. However cruel he may be, he doesn’t see himself as such.
Welcome to human nature. We are all, to varying degrees, prejudiced. We all stereotype and deceive ourselves. We see ourselves as possessing the truth. Yet we all fall prey to human egocentricity—although not to the same degree. None of us will ever be a perfect thinker, but we can all be better thinkers.
To develop as a thinker, you need to work daily to bring what is unconscious in your thinking to the level of consciousness. You need to discover the problems that exist in your thinking and face them. Only then can you make significant improvements in your thinking and your life. Inherent in human nature is the capacity to rise above your native egocentric patterns of thought. You can use your mind to educate your mind. You can use your thinking to change your thinking. You can “remake” or “transform” yourself.