1 Reason People Act the Way They Do

Anybody ought to know better than that!” But they don’t. People do what they do because they believe for today, and for them, this is the best and wisest thing for them to do. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
But the Lord weighs the hearts (Proverbs 21:2, NKJV).

When I don’t believe that, I approach people with the attitude — they know better, and they do it anyway. I judge them to be malignant, dishonest, and acting with evil intent. And, even though I don’t say it, the distrust and one-upness come out of the pores of my skin.

But surely people know when they’re doing something wrong — they know better than to do it.

Jesus didn’t think so. I don’t know anything worse than killing the Son of God. Did they know better? Jesus said they didn’t:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34).

Peter agreed with Jesus about the same people committing the same act:

Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers (Acts 3:17).

Paul said the same as Jesus and Peter:

which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8).

If Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the Holy Spirit are right, people do wrong things because they believe wrong. If I’m going to help them, I need to know what they believe and why.

He and I are doing what we’re doing for precisely the same reason: we believe we’re doing the right thing for us today. People do what they do: they believe for today, and for them, this is the best and wisest thing to do.

If you don’t read Seth Godin’s blog, you’re missing one to three classics every month — sometimes that many in a week. He blogs daily, 365 times a year, 366 in leap years. They’re short, some unusual, but many are right on target and thought-provoking. You can subscribe by clicking the link and typing your email address on the upper left-hand side of his blog: Seth Godin Blog.

Here are two of his comments on the principle in Proverbs 21:2:

No one is unreasonable

by Seth Godin

No one says, “I’m going to be unfair to this person today, brutal in fact, even though they don’t deserve it or it’s not helpful.”

Few people say, “I know that this person signed the contract and did what they promised, but I’m going to rip them off, just because I can.”

And it’s quite rare to have someone say, “I’m a selfish narcissist, and everyone should revolve around me merely because I said so.”

In fact, all of us have a narrative. It’s the story we tell ourselves about how we got here, what we’re building, what our urgencies are.

And within that narrative, we act in a way that seems reasonable.

To be clear, the narrative isn’t true. It’s merely our version, our self-talk about what’s going on. It’s the excuses, perceptions and history we’ve woven together to get through the world. It’s our grievances and our perception of privilege, our grudges and our loves.

No one is unreasonable. Or to be more accurate, no one thinks that they are being unreasonable.

That’s why we almost never respond well when someone points out how unreasonable we’re being. We don’t see it, because our narrative of the world around us won’t allow us to. Our worldview makes it really difficult to be empathetic, because seeing the world through the eyes of someone else takes so much effort.

It’s certainly possible to change someone’s narrative, but it takes time and patience and leverage. Teaching a new narrative is hard work, essential work, but something that is difficult to do at scale.

In the short run, our ability to treat different people differently means that we can seek out people who have a narrative that causes them to engage with us in reasonable ways. When we open the door for these folks, we’re far more likely to create the impact that we seek. No one thinks they’re unreasonable, but you certainly don’t have to work with the people who are.

And, if you’re someone who finds that your narrative isn’t helping you make the impact you seek, best to look hard at your narrative, the way you justify your unreasonableness, not the world outside.

The other person is always right

by Seth Godin

Always right about feelings.

About the day he just experienced.

About the fears (appropriate and ill-founded) in his life.

About the narrative going on, unspoken, in his head.

About what he likes and what he dislikes.

You’ll need to travel to this place of ‘right’ before you have any chance at all of actual communication.

Why do people think wrong things are right? That’s where listening comes in. If I don’t get there, I will fail to find the lost sheep where they are. I want them to be where I am, and we don’t meet. What if I start by trying to understand the person who acted unreasonably before I tell him or her what to do?

I might learn something about him or me, why we do what we do, and how we need to do things differently.

What have you found effective in dealing with unreasonable people?


(Visited 876 times, 73 visits today)
Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

8 Responses to “1 Reason People Act the Way They Do

  • You live in a sheltered world if you believe that no one ever says I am going to be unfair, or I am going to be brutal. These are common every day thoughts in the business world. I do agree that these people feel justified in their thinking. For example Donald Trump will come right out and say he is going to be brutal.

    • He didn’t say “no one.” And your statement about people feeling “justified” is exactly the essence of the article. You managed to get it, and miss it, at the same time.

  • I couldn’t remember why I was getting Seth Godin’s emails every day! Thanks for the article, and the reminder 😀

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      7 years ago

      You are welcome. Thank you for reading and commenting

  • Keith Crum
    7 years ago

    You’re 100% right in using this approach. Weighing in too soon can be disastrous if not fatal. Odds are you’ll never go the full 15 rounds! I’ve been wrong about being wrong a few times and wrong about being right too many times, getting knocked out in the early rounds (shame on me). Listening and involving the other party in the solution, working together, having them be a major contributor in the solution opens doors we could never open on our own. A simple what do you think coulda, shoulda, woulda is a reasonable neutral beginning point. (Isa.1:18)

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      7 years ago

      I find it easy to understand — hard to practice, even though it’s effective.

      Stephen R. Covey taught, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

      James wrote, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).

  • Having some grounds rules might be a place to start!

    • You have a point: Rule #1 in the Constitution for the Kingdom: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

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