It’s no secret that we present different versions of ourselves to different people, but we also think we can see through everyone else’s versioning system. Somehow we believe ours is impenetrable yet the rest of the world can be read like a book. As David McRaney, author of You Are Not So Smart, points out, carrying on this way is delusional, yet we all do it. Here’s why.
Image from the film Persona
The versions of yourself that you present and other present to you are simple and easy to understand. It isn’t difficult to for someone to believe that they know you when who you are is a presented set of simplified traits. It’s also why people seem easy to read. In reality, who you truly believe you are and who others believe themselves to be is generally internalised and imperceptible to others:
[R] esearchers asked people to describe a time when they feel most like themselves. Most subjects, 78 per cent, described something internal and unobservable like the feeling of seeing their child excel or the rush of applause after playing for an audience. When asked to describe when they believed friends or relatives were most illustrative of their personalities, they described internal feelings only 28 per cent of the time. Instead, they tended to describe actions. Tom is most like Tom when he is telling a dirty joke. Jill is most like Jill when she is rock climbing. You can’t see internal states of others, so you generally don’t use those states to describe their personalities.
This phenomeon — what psychologists call the illusion of asymmetric insight — creates a lot of problems. For instance, it allows you to completely reject what others believe because you think you understand it, and remain convinced that they’d agree with you if only they understood your point of view. Basically, you think you can understand everyone else and nobody can understand you. It gets even worse in groups. If you need an example, take a look at politics.
In reality, nobody’s really right or wrong. We’re never going to be able to paint a full picture of ourselves even if we’re completely honest. Because much of who we are is internalised, we’ll always project an incomplete version of who we are. When we look at other people, however, we have to remember that they’re doing the same thing. It’s easy to argue and disagree with what we see, hear and observe, but the full truth is often often beyond our reach. Next time you disagree with another person or group, remember that you probably don’t truly know and understand their point of view. You may agree on more than you’re able to perceive.
The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight [You Are Not So Smart]