Sunday, April 10, 2016

Thinking with Precision


There is a branch of psychology called Cognitive Psychology according to which our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are interconnected.  In other words, our thinking is clouded by our feelings and/or attitudes, and our behaviour is determined by that cloud.

Let us take an example.  A real one.  Smiley, please. 

A religious leader with a big fan (devotee) following declares openly that he would have beheaded those people who refused to pay homage to Bharata Mata, if the law would not have punished him.  How would cognitive psychology assess the godman?

The godman is suffering from a serious cognitive disorder, the cognitive psychologist would say immediately.  His thinking is terribly faulty.  His feelings and attitudes seem to be crude.  And hence his resultant behaviour (making the murderous statement from a public platform knowing that there are thousands of people listening to him with devotion) is neurotic.

Bharat Mata is a symbol of the nation and as such deserves to be respected by all citizens.  But if some people are not willing to chant slogans like Bharat Mata ki Jai for their own reasons, why should the godman take offence so much so that he is willing to be a murderer?  Which is a greater evil: refusing to chant a nationalist slogan or beheading people for refusing to chant it?  What is a godman supposed to teach his devotees? 

The errors in the man’s thinking and lack of sophistication in his feelings and attitudes together create a behavioural disorder which needs treatment, according to cognitive psychology. 

That was just an example.  Cognitive psychology can be applied to analyse our behaviour.  All behavioural problems stem from faulty thinking and attitudes. 

Aaron Beck, founder of cognitive therapy, worked with a lot of people suffering from neurotic disorders and found that they all suffered from distorted thinking.  Everyone should worship my gods, My country is the greatest, Difference of opinion is treason – these are examples of distorted thinking.  [These are not examples cited by Beck.  I’m using them for the purpose of this post.]

The remedy is to challenge the distorted thinking.  A counsellor helps the client to challenge his/her own thoughts.  We can do it ourselves too.  The more we question our thoughts and ideas, the more accurate they are likely to become.  The more clearly we learn to think, the less murderous we become.  Or, putting it positively, the more humane we become.



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