Have you heard the story of the Jesuit and the Benedictine? It seems that they were both heavy smokers. Chatting about this one day they agreed to ask their superiors to give them permission to smoke while reading their Daily Office. When they next met, they compared the outcomes. The Benedictine was crestfallen. He asked his Abbot if he could smoke while he was saying his prayers – and got thoroughly told off for his impiety. The Jesuit had no trouble. He asked if he could pray while he was smoking. He was congratulated for his virtue.
We can all see what happened, but it raises an important point. They were both asking for the same thing, and the only difference was the order of the request. It reminds us that our brains are often illogical in their work – sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad.
A very common illogicality is the danger of first impressions. For example, at a job interview, the decision tends to be made in the first few minutes. The first impression colours the later information. I suspect that many university acceptances are influenced by the candidate’s accent. This tendency of first impressions appears to be genetic. Many thousands of years ago our ancestors survived to breed because they immediately avoided situations of possible danger.
We have a built-in tendency to look out for evidence to support our views, and to dismiss evidence which may show otherwise. Take for instance, global warming or choice of political party. How often do we sit down, try to blank out our minds, and start again from scratch?
Here’s a job lot: tall men are more likely to get senior positions; bespectacled people are judged to be more intelligent; women’s eye pupils dilate when they are aroused; successful shops know every trick in their displays and advertisements.
Another genetic outcome is the influence of the groups to which we belong. In primitive times, belonging to your group made for safety, and to disagree with your group made you an outsider. For instance, if I took to slagging off Our Lady on this Blog I doubt if it would last very long.
You may well be aware of many such influences. But just knowing the possibilities is not enough. We must from time to time explore our views and check their truths. It’s a tough task but very worthwhile. And, what better occasion than the New Year?