Most decisions in our lives are very complex. They involve many influences tugging at our minds. We are conscious of some of these tugging influences, but I contend that we are not conscious of most of the influences. But once our minds have made a choice, we slowly form stories to explain to both ourselves and others the “hows?” or “whys?” of our decision. The resulting story excludes this complexity.
These stories usually are very simplified. For not only do we ourselves not understand many of the processes that subconsciously informed our decisions, but even our simplified understanding gets whittled down further over time as we watch others respond to our stories.
Let me give a fictional example. Imagine “Fred” breaks up with his girlfriend “Mary”. Fred’s friends will ask him “Why did you break up with Mary?” Now, if the people asking are close friends of Mary, he may say, “Well, she just did not like me as much as I think couples who are in-love should like each other. So I decided to be honest and just break up.” Mary’s friends, knowing that Mary had doubts about Fred, know he is right but they don’t want to hurt Fred’s feelings any further so they just comfort him saying, “Well, I hope it all works out for you.”
But Fred tells a different version to another group of his own friends who barely know Mary, “Well, Mary always complained and was never happy.” Lots of these friends like this story because it makes Fred look good and they personally feel that they have had girlfriends that complained too much. So they give him lots of strong head nods as they pat him on the back and laughingly say, “Well, there are lots of fish in the sea, you’ll find a good one!”
Now, there may be elements of truth to both stories, but even these two stories themselves surely don’t carry half of the real complexity of this couple’s separation. And over time, Fred may just stick with the story where he gets the most head nods and pats on the back. Fred will only use the story that works best. And he will use it over and over for years and slowly Fred himself will start forgetting the details of his relationship with Mary and he will simply rewrite his real history with Mary with this approved simple version of Mary.
New couples usually do this with each other – deriding their previous partners with simple stories to make both their new partner and themselves feel good. “He/she was just a complete idiot”, they say. And with the right amount of head nods, the story sticks. The human mind does this constantly. This is just one of the many ways our rationality is bounded.
Question for readers: Can you recognize how you have re-written your story of a former relationship? Or, more in keeping with the theme of this blog: Can you recognize how you have simplified your story of conversion in or out of a religion?