Preferences, beliefs, and constraints

Every time we interact with someone (or something), we make judgements and jump to conclusions. And more often than not, we think our judgments and conclusions are warranted.

Whenever I catch myself jumping to a conclusion or judging someone, I find that the reason I feel what I'm doing is warranted is because I believe I would not prefer to act the same way as the other person, given the same situation (or set of constraints). But the only reason I feel this way is because I have access to the entirety of my decision space, while I have conscious access to a limited set of theirs – their preferences and constraints (that make it past my cognitive biases).

If we only judge people based on how they act, or what they prefer to do, we risk not only ignoring their beliefs and circumstances, but also overlooking the fact that it is entirely possible for two people to believe in the same thing, have the same set of constraints and yet prefer to act differently (or to operate under a different set of beliefs and constraints, have similar preferences).

On the other hand, given a largely consistent set of constraints and beliefs (as tends to happen over time), our set of preferred actions and decisions tends to define who we think we are and it's easy to lose sight of what shapes our preferences and the map becomes the territory. Which is also why, over time, we look at what someone does, and we begin to think we truly understand them. And we're surprised (or shocked) when they do something out of the ordinary.

If you give a poor person money, and they go buy a TV first and spend the rest of the money on food, why do you think they do that [1]?


[1] It turns out that people want, more than anything, to escape their current reality even if it means prioritizing that over things like nutrition. When I choose to binge-watch Netflix over doing my chores, I'm doing a similar thing.