The Righteous Mind #1 – Why are other people so crazy?

As a therapist, I see as a source of much anguish in the consternation and puzzlement people feel over how others think and act, as the beliefs and behaviors of people in their lives often affect them directly in terms of negotiation and withholding of affection, criticism and judgment, conflict in how practical tasks should be accomplished, access to money and resources, how people should be treated, etc. People are often completely confounded as to the “crazy” and illogical behaviors of others, and this in itself can be a source of irritation and outrage.

In psychodynamic therapy (the line of practice originating with Freud), the key to alleviating distress begins with “de-mystifying” it; revealing the underlying unconscious complex mechanisms that are causing the pain and exploring how these complexes are working. It seems to me the to mitigating the frustration people have with the confounding behavior of others begins with them engaging in a similar unraveling of the subterranean forces informing this behavior, and by doing so, understanding it. To me it makes sense that this investigation begins with delving into people’s belief systems – what they are, how they are developed and perpetuated, and how they influence behavior and relationships.

In my work, the way of being to which I hold as optimal can be summed up in the following quote from the beginning of a book I am reading:


The book is Jon Haidt’s 2012 “The Righteous Mind”.  I have followed moral psychologist Haidt for some time with fascination as he breaks down the essential belief differences between conservative and liberal,  and how university professor viewpoint diversity is heavily skewed in the direction of the latter. However, it is his work on morality, why people believe what they believe and what informs and constructs their morality (sense of right and wrong) that has become of particular interest to me. As I read and am thoroughly engaged, I also am feel I am adding an important dimension to understanding the complicated realm of belief and why people believe what they believe so strongly.

The book investigates, as is stated on the cover, “Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics”. While the subtitle indicates the timely nature of the material, and the book obviously devotes a lot of space to the topics of political and religious beliefs, there is a substantial amount of material, especially in the opening chapters, that discusses the nature of belief systems in general, why they are at conflict, and what we can do about it. Haidt asserts that we can communicate better and relate more productively using this understanding as a basis, and that some of this divide can be healed and even avoided.

Therefore, I want to dedicate the next few blogs to these sections of the book as I attempt to integrate the contents into my own hopefully deepening comprehension of why we have such a hard time accepting other people’s viewpoints and how to remedy this. My hope is that this investigation will improve my ability to help decrease client’s interpersonal friction and frustration and increase productive communication and mutual understanding with people in their lives. I am hoping that this book will help me become a better and more empathetic communicator and subsequently, a more effective therapist.

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