“Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.” (Tony Schwartz) There are many things that we all have in common. One thing which we have in common is that we all want to be good people. Our efforts can be seen through reforestation efforts, caring for the elderly, or other self-care techniques like meditation. Recently, we at Unified Caring Association (UCA) watched an interesting TedTalk by Dolly Chugh. A woman who enlightens us to the self-inquiry about what it means to be a “good person,” and how letting go of that restrictive definition can help us grow to become a better person.
The Perception of a “Good Person”
Dolly Chugh mentions at the beginning of her TedTalk that she studies the psychology of “good people.” Dolly says, “Research in my field says many of us care deeply about feeling like a good person and being seen as a good person. The problem is that we may not all have the same definition. Whatever our definition is, that moral identity is important to many of us. Meaning that our perception of ourselves is often differs from that of others. We can have a communication breakdown when there is a misalignment. This misalignment can cause us discomfort. Many of us can get stuck in a rut with this awkward, uncomfortable uneasiness. We want to remain attached to our concept of what a good person is and how we fit that definition.
Dolly poses a great question, “What if I told you that our attachment to being good people is getting in the way of us being better people?” Woah! Our definition of a good person often is narrow and impossible to meet. This doesn’t seem fair to others or ourselves. What do we do then? Let go of being this idealistic good person to become a better person.
The definition of bounded rationality is when our decision-making processes in our minds is limited by sets of information. In addition to this, we have a finite amount of time to process this information to make a decision. Kind of like a shortcut, we can quickly access these concepts and make a decision without even taking time to think about it. People often hold fast to these parameters and definitions. Sometimes bounded rationality is referred to as a fixed-mindset. The opposite of this is a growth mindset. A growth mindset is where we are open to new parameters, ideas, and concepts in an effort to expand our information and make better decisions.
Dolly Chugh and her associates took the concept of bounded rationality to define a new stance that they call bounded ethicality. “We have a human mind that is bounded in some sort of way and relying on shortcuts, and that those shortcuts can sometimes lead us astray … With bounded ethicality, the human mind, the same human mind, is making decisions.” Dolly makes a good point when she continues on to remark, “unconscious bias is one place where we see the effects of bounded ethicality. So unconscious bias refers to associations we have in our mind, the shortcuts your brain is using to organize information, very likely outside of your awareness, not necessarily lining up with your conscious beliefs.”
OK, So Example Time!
Dolly gives us multiple examples of letting go in her TedTalk, but one stands out to us. If we think about it, we can see the effects of bounded ethicality when we experience conflicts of interest. “We tend to underestimate how much a small gift … can affect our decision making. We don’t realize that our mind is unconsciously lining up evidence to support the point of view of the gift-giver, no matter how hard we’re consciously trying to be objective and professional.” If you accept that small gift that can sway your decision making, you are possibly placing yourself into being less than a good person. Despite all of our efforts to be a good person, we can make mistakes that cause us much strife. “…despite our best attempts, and we explain away our mistakes rather than learning from them.” (Chugh)
Once we make a mistake, we can become defensive because we are uncomfortable with violating our own image of being a good person. We fight to maintain the notion that we are a good person, rationalizing and giving excuses as to why we chose an action that made us less than a good person. “…the latest work that I’ve been doing on bounded ethicality with Mary Kern says that we’re not only prone to mistakes — that tendency towards mistakes depends on how close we are to that red zone [being defensive or angry]. So most of the time, nobody’s challenging our good person identity, and so we’re not thinking too much about the ethical implications of our decisions, and our model shows that we’re then spiraling towards less and less ethical behavior most of the time.” We can see this when we tell ourselves it is ok to have another cookie, it is small, and we have already eaten more than we should have.
What About if Someone Else Calls Us Out?
Somebody else might challenge our identity as a “good person.” Upon reflection, we can find that we may be challenging this view ourselves. “So the ethical implications of our decisions become really [important], and in those cases, we spiral towards more and more good person behavior, or, to be more precise, towards more and more behavior that makes us feel like a good person.” (Chugh)
Letting Go = Learning
Dolly’s idea when dealing with being bounded ethicality is that we sometimes can overestimate the importance our inner compass when it comes to making ethical decisions. “We perhaps are overestimating how much our self-interest is driving our decisions, and perhaps we don’t realize how much our self-view as a good person is affecting our behavior, that in fact, we’re working so hard to protect that good person identity, to keep out of that red zone, that we’re not actually giving ourselves space to learn from our mistakes and actually be better people.”
We might expect this to be easy, but often letting go is hard. The definition most of us have for a good person is an either-or. You are either a good person or not, you have integrity or you do not.
To learn and update our knowledge, we often have to go through processes like reading or talking to experts. One process is by learning from our mistakes, and getting better with each iteration. “But when it comes to being a good person, we think it’s something we’re just supposed to know, we’re just supposed to do, without the benefit of effort or growth.”
A Good-ish Person
Dolly Chugh proposes a concept that meets in the middle of the two concepts of a good person and a bad person. This concept is a “good-ish person.” She says, “…everyone just forget about being good people, just let it go, and instead, set a higher standard, a higher standard of being a good-ish person? A good-ish person absolutely still makes mistakes.” This middle ground of a good-ish person allows for a second something we all share, being human, making mistakes, and learning from them. “… as a good-ish person, I’m trying to learn from [mistakes], own them. I expect them and I go after them…As a good-ish person, in fact, I become better at noticing my own mistakes.”
Admitting that you are flawed or made a mistake can place us in a vulnerable position. But it is through reflection during the vulnerability that we can assess our definition of being a good person, the consequences of our decisions, and grow. Eventually we will see progress, growth, and begin to develop a new concept that allows us to get better.