We all have dozens of “Why I …” stories which we use to repeatedly explain who we are. We become secure in these stories as people have nodded to them in agreement over the years. Here are just a few examples of “Why I” scenarios for which a person may have wonderful stories to explain away:
- Why I am shy
- Why I am afraid of spiders
- Why I take charge in most situations
- Why I don’t like my food mixed
- Why I like slow movies
- Why I don’t like country music
- Why I think it is important to be neat
- Why I think it is important to state your opinion strongly
- Why I think we should guard other people’s feelings
- Why I think logic is so important
- Why I am suspicious of others
- Why I feel we should learn to trust people
But with a little introspection, it becomes clear that many of our “Why I” stories are false. To illustrate the potential self-delusion on such explanations, let me give an example from the famous 1990 Minnesota Twin Family Study. Part of the study examined identical twins who were separated at birth and raised in different families so as to help tease out the role of genetics and environment in trait development. One trait they examined was “fastidiousness”–how neat and organized a person is. Here is a case study:
Two twin boys were adopted out to different families and never had communication with each other. Both of the boys (now adults) were fanatically fastidious. When asked to explain their fastidiousness, their “Why I …” explanations varied immensely:
Boy 1: “It is obvious. Just look at the parents who raised me — they are sloppy pigs. I became fastidious to compensate for all the messy chaos in my life.”
Boy 2: “It is obvious. Just look at the parents who raise me — they are neat freaks. I simply imitate them until it is now my habit too.
Question to Readers: Can you share a “Why I …” story that your brain fabricated for you but that you now realize is contrivance to explain basic inborn traits?
- I understand that personality theories which look at traits are fraught with challenges. But this example has been useful to me in understand my own mind and those of others.
- I wrote that many of our “Why I …” stories are false but I wanted to say “most” and another part of me wanted to say they are “ALL” are false. But I was modest in my claim in order to appear reasonable to my readers and to assure that they stay open to the possibility that some of their self-stories are false. 😉
- I considered “Our Bull***t” as the title for this post, but decided to keep it kid friendly.