Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Solomon’s paradox

Recently, I noticed an article of which the subject has been on my mind for a very long time. Why am I better in advising others than in advising myself? Big Think-2023: “In 2014, a paper from psychologists Igor Grossman and Ethan Kross introduced the idea of Solomon’s paradox.”

“Their research revealed two things. One was that people “display wiser reasoning… about another person’s problems compared with their own.” In other words, there’s a widespread social cognitive bias that means we are much better at dealing with other people’s lives and problems than our own. Second, Grossman and Kross noted that when we try to eliminate self-immersion — in other words, when we try to distance ourselves from our own problems — we somehow are much better at making sensible decisions.”

Excerpt of 2023 Big Think article How to use “Solomon’s paradox” to give yourself good life advice

In my view, the explanation (probably) relates to a thesis by ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi:

The more you know, the less you understand.”

Source: excerpt of Tao Te Ching (c. 400 BC), chapter 47, by Lao Tzu a.k.a. Laozi

When advising others, we cannot know all of their deeds, words & intentions. Hence, we only know some highlights and not all details. To quote an ancient saying: the devil is in the details. Wiki: “something may seem simple, but in fact the details are complicated and likely to cause problems”.

This is (probably) also the reason why (some) people cannot follow our advice. They will probably argue that “it’s complicated“. Indeed it is: the more you know, the less you understand. Moreover, we will never hear the full story due to emotions, like (a.o.) fear, guilt & shame, and regret & remorse.

The second claim of psychologists Igor Grossman and Ethan Kross is that “we somehow are much better at making sensible decisions” through elimination of self-immersion or self-distancing. A tool for this is using the words “you” or “[your first name]” rather than the word “I”.

In my view, advising others will usually involve a macro perspective, while advising ourself will usually involve a micro focus. Hence, advising others is often quick and dirty following a lack of details, while advising yourself is slow and cumbersome due to an information overload (eg, my 2022 blog).

Last but certainly not least, we assume and expect that others want our logical and rational advice rather than an emotional advice. Applying a logical and rational advice to ourselves, while denying our emotions, seems (almost) impossible, regardless of the tools that we can/could apply.

Hold On Tight (2010) by Solomon Burke & De Dijk
artist, band, lyrics, video, Wiki-artist, Wiki-band, Wiki-album+song

When you don’t know what to do
And your mind is getting dark
And the fire that was burning
Has been reduced to a smoke and a spark

And every time things get hard
And you’re worried right down to the bone
You carry on with what you know
You know you’re not alone

Hold on, hold on tight
Hold on tight, hold on, hold on
Hold on tight with all your might
Don’t let go, no, no, no, no, no, no
Don’t let go

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless in quotes or stated otherwise.


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