Yesterday I introduced Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of our rational self as a Rider sitting atop an Elephant, the larger, more powerful emotional self. Sometimes the Rider is the pilot directing the Elephant, but often the Elephant is in control, making the Rider a passenger.
Scientific literature on how people change tells us that unless we motivate the Elephant – arguments and logic are rarely enough – feelings are simply more powerful than reasons.
I experienced this recently when my daughter learned she was admitted to both NYU and Barnard. She prefers NYU because of its theater arts program. I wasn’t sure. In the midst of my analytical processing of pros and cons, I was shown a 3-minute video of the entire NYU admissions staff enthusiastically welcoming the Class of 2015, cheering the very moment the button was pushed to send the acceptance e-mails. It was fun and charming, and it roused and pleased my Elephant. Perhaps the Elephant convinced the Rider NYU was the best choice, or maybe it just overpowered reason. Either way, I felt good about my daughter’s choice, and I smiled as we wrote the deposit check.
Was NYU’s attempt to influence our decision with emotion cynical or improper? Am I being cynical in assuming that was their intent? It doesn’t really matter. I’ve come to realize non-rationally motivated decisions are not necessarily irrational or unwise. Making the Elephant happy is just as important as pleasing the Rider.
But there I go again trying to convince my head something my heart already knows.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.