The Third Man

Irrational behavior?  That’s the subject matter of the thing you start your day with?  I guess you can figure out many things about a person based on what they choice to kick-off their brain drain reading.  Dan Ariely is a professor at Duke, renowned for his opinions on why we make the dumb choices we make and how we can understand them.  I’ve taken two classes of his through their lovely distance learning program since being on campus is not really necessary and I do live hundreds of miles away.  Based on an email I received from him once, he agrees that might be the most rational thing I have done over the past two years!

Part of the reason I read his stuff (and he doesn’t post every day just when he has something to say) is because I wake up many mornings with a series of irrational thoughts.  I hear a traffic report from Baltimore, Maryland and fight the urge to text someone saying to be careful.  I did that once last year when the snow fell hard on evening and felt silly for even making the attempt.  No reason I should remind my ex to be careful driving home, but the regard for her safety was more important than the reality of our non-relationship status.  I could reprogram my phone to not stream this information, living in Boston it makes more sense to pay heed to my current location.  But irrational thoughts sometimes bring irrational actions.

I can tell you from years of experience that even making some business decisions, ones that affect hundreds of people, I tend to make them more emotionally at times.  It might have been easier to lay off groups of people, but I couldn’t look myself in the mirror knowing that I had done that.  Cutting out a supplier, easily done.  Faceless, relatively nameless people are easy to walk away from.  People who have supported my family, even when times were tough, means supporting them when things are easy.  Irrational behavior defined!

Most days I see myself as the monster that someone once painted me as.  I work hard at trying to erase that series of words from my mind.  Even when other’s have told me that while I have made mistakes, it is wrong to give such credence to someone else’s irrational thoughts.  13 months later and my former mother-in-law can still reduce me.

I wrote one of my papers for Dan’s class about my complex relationship with the person I need to be in business and the person that I need the world to see.  They can’t be the same person, the world doesn’t work that way.  My having protected the ex from the nasty work guy, led to too many issues later.  My irrational need for her “approval” meant not allowing certain things to enter our world.  It’s what prompt a long email chain between Dr. Ariely and myself talking about why I let that affect me, he even used some of it in a lecture later (removing my name of course!)  There was also that discussion about why I was taking any of the classes since I had long ago reached the end of my doctoral studies.  I just wanted to understand why I did some things, different answers than I was receiving in a Doctor’s office via her couch!

The thing that fascinated and became a subject was my decision to just leave everything behind.  Pages of emails where I was being called out for walking away.  The Third Man had entered our talks.  The guy who let fear dictate his actions.  Irrational behavior wasn’t defining things, concerns about other people made my choices for me.  It was a fun talk?!

Dan’s point has been this, my concern for others has limited my options.  Or more specifically I limited my options because I stopped asking for help of any kind.  Do I think that at this point if I asked for help I might get it?  I honestly don’t know the answer to that question.  I do miss my friends, but I fear them as well.  The irrational side of loving people?  Welcome to the world of a Behavioral Economist who obviously needs to continue learning about the world so that he can be a part of it!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Companionable.”

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