Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.   2-16

ABSTRACT:  Human beings need accurate beliefs about what is real in order to live well, but much of what is taken to be real is largely chosen and constructed by us. Statements about reality that appear to be accurate, based on careful examination and effort to remove personal interest from the determinations are presented.

KEY WORDS:  reality, truth, real, human beings, nature of human beings

Human beings need accurate beliefs about what is real in order to live well, but much of what is taken to be real is largely chosen and constructed by us. Statements about reality can be judged to be true or false, most commonly using the contextual definition that a statement is true if it corresponds to reality (accurately describes what is) (or a statement is more true the more the more it corresponds with reality). 

Since human beings each have slightly different genetic make-ups and different life experiences, they will each have a somewhat different take on reality and what an accurate description of reality is.  This means that it is relatively easy to make more or less accurate statements about external reality (the world outside of ourselves), while it is quite difficult (and rare) for human beings to make accurate statements about their internal reality.  This is partly because internal reality is more fluid than external reality and because we cannot isolate aspects of internal reality, observe them together, and give them names or descriptions that we agree on.

The search for internal truth is pursued (if at all) by observing ourselves minutely and using our observations to build hypotheses about what is going on inside, in order to make statements about that reality, followed by more observation to test out whether those statements prove to be accurate upon multiple occasions.  This process takes time—for most of us, a lifetime.  In this process we discover much about how and why we deceive ourselves about internal reality.  We deceive ourselves largely in order to avoid short-term emotional pain.  Since we have learned the advantages of keeping secrets and pretending to others to have different internal states than we actually have, we keep our internal truths to ourselves.  Sharing these more often would help us all in our processes of understanding ourselves.  You are certainly aware of how amazed you are when you meet someone who just doesn’t seem to care what others know about him or her, since it is so rare.

Children learn early that we can alter our assertions about reality to improve our chances of gratification or to avoid punishment.  Children explore lying, which is exactly that—changing reality for gain or benefit.  Most children recognize, with the family’s help, that over the long haul there are more advantages to being truthful than there are to lying, particularly in certain situations (court?, taxes?), but most people continue to lie at least occasionally, in trying to avoid punishments or other negative consequences, and some people purposely lie for gain—the stereotypic view of politicians and business people.  Each person must choose a stance with regard to lying and the truth.  An example of the conclusions based on observation presented below is that people who do not distort the truth are more trustworthy, make better decisions, and have better relationships and better lives, but this also means that they must take the consequences of their actual behavior and its effects on others (instead of lying to avoid those consequences

We ignore and purposely put things out of our consciousness that we don’t want to attend to, because there are feelings involved that we are avoiding or because awareness of these things might result in feelings that we don’t want to feel.  (1) Some of these are the defenses mentioned above.  (2) We distract ourselves to keep ourselves from feeling undesirable feelings and sensations, by keeping busy, focusing on something else (dancing, more desirable thoughts, hobbies, talking), or surrendering our awareness to chosen stimuli or states, such as watching a movie or using drugs.  (3) We pretend that we don’t have the undesirable feelings or thoughts but that someone else does, as in the fairly common defense of projection (e.g., inaccurately seeing someone else as being obsessed with sex when we ourselves are the ones obsessed).  (4) We employ catharsis or other emotional expressions to discharge emotional and physical tension (including displacement, in which we come home from work and feel better after kicking the dog when we had really wanted to kick the boss).  (5) We may employ more destructive (to ourselves) defenses also, such as pretending to be someone else in order to get away from undesired awarenesses, as when a person is being raped and feels that he or she is outside his/her own body or when a person develops multiple personalities, usually to have a refuge from some trauma.  (6) We make up explanations for the unknown or beliefs that solve our dilemma, so that we can justify not thinking any further about the problem or threat.  For example, we might attribute greater strength to our armed forces than is actually the case in order not to worry very much about the threat that some other country poses to ours.

These methods of dealing with our constant onslaught of thoughts and feelings succeed to some degree, but they may also have unintended negative consequences, and in the larger picture, it is important to assess whether they are doing more harm than good.  In general, we will have more success in life through understanding reality accurately, through being aware of all of our internal signals and activities (i.e., our sensations, thoughts, feelings, motives, self-image, body image), and through basing our decisions on an accurate understanding of reality than we will through believing in and using distorted information.  In the long run we will probably be better off letting ourselves know that our marriage is in jeopardy than we will be by fooling ourselves about it, since being aware allows us to make all of the efforts that we wish to make to preserve the marriage before a breakup becomes inevitable.

Most of us have an unrealistic view of ourselves and of others.  We have a strong tendency to idealize ourselves and human beings in general (even ourselves), and we reliably rate ourselves higher in psychological research than is realistic.  The truth is that human beings are basically self-centered, except for our inborn tendencies to nurture children, to attach to sex partners, to stay attached to parents, to form emotional alliances with a few other people, and to protect and defend our primary groups (family, town, nation).

Since we don’t share our internal truths very much, this essay presents some  statements about reality that appear to me to be accurate, based on a lifetime of careful examination and effort to remove personal interest from the determinations are presented.   They all have the underlying assumption that a life including good self-esteem, gratifying relationships with others, a degree of social success, and a minimum of conflict and violence is seen by almost all people as a good life and worth striving for by making necessary changes along the way.  Many will seem provocative, and for those you are urged to take a moment and consider what you actually believe, if you are completely honest with yourself.  Many of them are things we prefer not to think about, which should give you pause to consider whether it is better to know more or better not to know, in terms of the kind of life you want.  The statements below stem from careful observations over time and from a lifelong effort to examine things on a deeper level, so unless you can disprove them properly (by finding their underlying assumptions false based on good evidence or their descriptions of reality misstated), you should take them seriously as probable truth.  As you will note, facing up to the somewhat negative realities about ourselves gives us a challenge if we are to have a balanced and net positive view of ourselves and others!  

The title of this essay might better have been “Realities,” to reflect the fact that each of us constructs as best we can our picture of reality, but it is up to each of us to continually improve the accuracy of our picture of reality.  Some “realities” are more true than others, and it is up to you to figure out which.


We are separate from other human beings, isolated in our own skins, and given the limitations of what we can do individually (think about how you would survive alone on a desert island), this leads inevitably to experiences of aloneness, fear, and vulnerability. 

We are almost completely dependent on other people for staying alive (at least in relatively civilized societies). 

Since as far as we know there are no physical or non-physical means (such as telepathy) for us to automatically know what others are experiencing, we struggle to know and understand what others are experiencing, since they are so obviously important to us in trying to get what we want.

Each of us is unique and different from all other human beings, both genetically and because of our unique experience of life, which makes communication and cooperation with others more difficult.

We are driven every moment of our lives, even in sleep, by internal signals (sensations, needs, desires, and emotions), and we must respond to and manage these signals and their impact on us. 

We are completely dependent and cognitively undeveloped in early life when we are most ignorant and when painful or traumatic experiences can have the greatest impact on us, which for many people leads to inaccurate or over-simplified views of life which are very difficult to change later on due to their strong, emotional connections.  (This relatively “blank slate” status also is the source of much of our tremendous adaptability as a species.)

As we grow up, the complexity of life and the many demands on us to learn and perform are sometimes beyond our coping capacities at that point in our development, and this leads inevitably to feelings of helplessness, insecurity, and fear of failure and to the need to escape these painful feelings.  These experiences set the stage for our basic conservatism as human beings—that we generally do not venture into new experiences or new territory because we had so many painful new experiences that we could not cope with in our early years.

(You may object that you do not feel fearful, insecure, vulnerable, or helpless, but if that is so, it is because you have found patterns of acting and relating that are reasonably safe and reliable, so that they do not generate fear, insecurity, vulnerability, or helplessness for you.  Just try varying your pattern a little (lose your job, depend on someone, want something better for someone who is screwing up), and you will discover feelings of fear, insecurity, vulnerability, and helplessness within you.)

We all must be “socialized” as children–trained to do things in what others consider to be appropriate ways, like learning proper eating, language, and toilet habits, learning manners, and learning how to refrain from prohibited or dangerous actions.  As a result, we all know deep down that some aspects of our natural selves are unacceptable to those around us, even those who love us.  We have all had the experience of being identified as “bad,” and we interpreted this to mean that our basic selves were bad, not just our behavior.  (In a sense, all children have been emotionally “brutalized,” “traumatized,” or “abused,” as seen from a child’s point of view.)  This means that we all have a chronic fear of rejection and a certain amount of fear of all other human beings.  (This is one of the fears that we work hard to deny, doing our best to convince ourselves that others-at least certain others—can be trusted and relied upon.)

We need other people to survive and prosper, but we each have somewhat different agendas and ideas, and this leads to uncertainty about how much to depend on others and how independent and autonomous to be, and it also leads to insecurity, since we know that others will pursue their own agendas instead of putting our needs first (except, perhaps, for some parents).

Even as adults, we have limited capacities and power to  control what happens to us, which leads to frequent feelings of frustration, fear, helplessness, and insecurity (even if we stick cautiously to what we are already familiar with most of the time).  Constant effort and activity are needed to survive.

We would like to know with certainty what is going to happen in the future, and we would like to be confident that our needs will always be met and that we will always be safe from harm.  Obviously we cannot have this certainty and security, given the way the world is (unless we fool ourselves into believing these things), which means that we must always deal with a certain amount of insecurity, vulnerability (knowing that we could be harmed), and helplessness (knowing that we are helpless to make our lives totally safe and secure).  Partial certainty and security are possible, but we must learn to be satisfied with this.

If we live long enough, it is certain that we will lose some people that are important to us, either through relationship conflicts or death.  Each of these losses is a sobering experience, even if we try to forget them.

Our own lives will inevitably end in death.  In our culture, particularly, we try to ignore and deny this, arranging our daily lives so as to be as out of touch with death as possible.

Life is difficult, takes constant effort, and often does not turn out as we would like.  If we acknowledge these realities of living, it is no wonder that emotional avoidance and defenses seem necessary and that distorting reality is so attractive to us!  It is also not surprising that emotional problems are so widespread!  On the other hand, the fact that we do survive and endure, often with a positive attitude about what is happening to us, is a tribute to our adaptive powers as human beings!


As human beings we are not born with built-in knowledge of reality.  Our separateness from each other—each isolated in our own skin—and the fact that our experience is somewhat different from that of every other person guarantee that we will experience things differently and make sense of them somewhat differently, thus leading to different and often competing assertions about “reality.”

Because of this lack of built-in reality, human beings can ignore or distort any input or conclusion (perceptions, thoughts, emotions) that has unwanted implications or consequences.  Our distortions are always for purposes of (1) getting what we want, (2) avoiding pain, (3) increasing our sense of security (including maintaining hope and motivation when these are threatened), and/or (4) protecting or improving our self-image and self-esteem. 

Since there is a huge amount of sensory information coming into our brains all the time, which is simultaneously being processed to check for associations and patterns and then further developed into “thoughts” (at the same time that more input is coming in), we cannot possibly be aware of all of this input or of what our brains are doing, and much of it never reaches what we call our consciousness.  Since we select only portions of this input to attend to (so that other parts are lost), and since much of what our brains do is unknown to us consciously, our understanding of reality is partial and therefore only partially correct (is consistent with only some aspects of reality, or accounts for only some aspects of reality).

Our moment-to-moment experience is much more complex than we can grasp, and we understand ourselves incompletely and often inaccurately, which is illustrated by the fact that we frequently don’t know what we are thinking, feeling, or wanting.  Some of this lack of self-knowledge or understanding is also due to our unwillingness to know the whole truth about ourselves.

Infants and young children construct a reality that involves both “forces” and objects (primarily parents, but also fate, magic, and evil) that can be frightening and overwhelming and which they (and even we) cannot fully understand.  The power of these early conceptions can be seen in the vulnerability of almost all adults to awe and fear regarding things that seem magical, miraculous, or otherwise inexplicable. (Note the popularity of horror and supernatural movies and the “natural” tendency of many adults to continue to believe that some external force, such as God or the planets, is actually controlling everything that happens. 

As we grow up, life often seems more difficult than we can manage, particularly as children, and real life often results in emotional pain.  This leads us as children to develop psychological methods that we can use to minimize feeling overwhelmed, insecure, constantly fearful, or in pain.  Some of these methods are accomplished entirely within the brain and are called “defenses” (denial, projection, repression, displacement, etc.)  Some of these prove useful to us over the long run and some prove to have harmful side effects, such as causing problems in our relationships or causing symptoms like anxiety and depression.  All of them have the effect of at least partially concealing from us our own thoughts and feelings (like not knowing when we are angry and not knowing why we hurt someone), so that we then make decisions without complete information.  Some of them seriously distort our sense of reality in order to ease our pain (like causing us to feel suspicious of everyone so that we will never again be hurt by others or disappointed in others). 

We are built to avoid pain (as well to as gratify certain basic needs), so when distorting reality seems to help us to avoid pain, we are drawn to engage in it. 

We tend to prefer an immediate gratification over a delayed gratification (which avoids the pain of disappointment or of waiting for a delayed gratification, even when the delayed gratification might actually gain us more pleasure or other benefits than the immediate gratification).

We try to use communication to help us to know others and to cooperate with them in jointly beneficial tasks.  We have cognitive capacities for symbolizing, defining, and comparing, but we each have somewhat different meanings for many of our words, especially terms without concrete referents).  We can generally agree on what a table is, but we have clearly different ideas of what love and friendship are.

Even more significant for understanding and communication distortions is the fact that our language and our processing capacity are inadequate to fully describe and store in memory our experience.  So, every time we tell someone else what we have experienced, we actually tell them a partial version of the full reality.  Just as we are aware of only parts of our experience, we can never put everything we are experiencing into symbols or memory, and we could not express it all, even if we tried.  Even while we try to express something, experiences are piling up so fast that there is no way that we can keep up.

Our understanding of reality is based on this partial data, using words that we define inexactly, so our understanding of reality is bound to be in some ways inaccurate.  If our understanding of reality is inaccurate to start with, then our attempts to communicate with others, using the same inexactly defined words (which others have somewhat different definitions of) inevitably involves inaccuracy on our part and misunderstandings by others (and vice versa).

We are forever dependent on other human beings for life as we know it, and this dependency, in combination with our separateness and consequent selfishness, leads inevitably to negative emotions toward others.

Evolution’s answer to in-group competition among human beings has been the establishment of status hierarchies.  Everyone is ranked according to his/her position in the hierarchy, with people above us and people below.  The basic purpose of the hierarchy is to allow unequal distribution of food and other goods among the group members while minimizing the violence that could result from envy and feelings of unfairness.  While this pre-arrangement for distribution is useful for the group, humans (and some other animals, too) add to it the notion that the value of each person corresponds to his/her position in the hierarchy.  Thus, those higher in the hierarchy falsely “feel” that they are “better than” those below them and that they deserve getting more than those below them because of who they are as persons.  Those lower in the hierarchy feel worse about themselves and usually believe that they don’t deserve as much as those above them, again because of who they are as persons. 

We have some capacity to empathize (to understand others through imagining what they are experiencing), but if we are honest we must admit that we often guess at this and certainly do not understand others fully. 

A problem arising from empathy is that while it allows us to partially understand others and therefore to better relate to and cooperate with them, it also leads us unconsciously to feel what others are feeling, whether that is appropriate to reality or not.  This increases family loyalty, but it also makes it possible for us to get caught up in “crowd emotions” that can lead to mob violence and lynching.

Human beings have capacities for learning, but we frequently learn incorrectly from our experience, and our thinking capacity is limited by the physiology of our brains.  We frequently overgeneralize, as when a woman abused as a child by her father becomes afraid of all men instead of fearing only men who are likely to abuse.  We frequently make elementary mistakes in logic.  Most people cannot solve simple logic problems, and when we must take more than one or two variables into account in solving a problem or predicting an outcome, we rapidly become totally unable to make those predictions using only our brains (without paper or computers).

We have the capacity and the need to imagine the future, which enables us to “picture” or symbolize our goals so that we are motivated to act toward achieving them and so that we can use our other cognitive capacities to plan behaviors that can achieve them.  It is a challenge for us to make our images of a future goal strong enough that we are motivated to continue to do unpleasant activities for long periods of time in order to achieve that important goal, no matter how desirable that goal is.

It is part of our nature as human beings that we need constant stimulation while awake—quite different from many animals that sleep if they are not hunting food.  This helps us to achieve more than other species, if we can keep our activity focused on needed tasks, but it also leads many people into mischief, particularly in their “leisure time,” often through “discoveries” such as the ability to make nuclear weapons, the ability to “choose” in utero or before the color of a baby’s eyes, and the ability to manufacture viruses that could wipe out all of humanity, which are not needed for the survival of the species and which may well harm us more than they help. 

We have the very fundamental ability of all animals to inhibit behavior (to not act or to “freeze”), which is very important for avoiding danger, but we are less facile when we try to inhibit a pleasurable behavior that we know will be “bad” for us (e.g., substance abuse, eating, or destructive hedonism).

In order to feel safe and secure, we human beings need to believe that we can predict the future and can therefore accurately imagine a sequence of steps that will lead us to our desired goals—otherwise we would not know how to choose actions that will fulfill our needs.  Given our limitations in accurate knowledge and given the fact that we live in a “probabilistic” world, things are always happening that we do not or cannot anticipate.  Things hardly ever turn out exactly as we expect.  These surprises and uncertainties leads naturally to feelings of insecurity and helplessness.

This constant uncertainty about the results of our actions and about events in the world that we fail to anticipate leads to the strongly conservative bent of human beings-staying in well-known paths rather than risking the unknown.  We human beings are especially fearful of anything that is different, unfamiliar, or unknown.  Habit determines most of our behavior, both because it is safer and because it is quicker and easier than living fully in each moment.

We tend to associate the conditions that we believe support our personal ways of getting what we want with the actual results that we want (like believing that being married or having a relationship with God through our own brand of religion or being accepted by a group of friends or living in the town we live in is necessary if we are to keep on having our survival and emotional needs met).  We then defend any threat to those persons or conditions as if they were threats to the actual reinforcements that we want, which is a distortion of reality.  Actually there are many ways to gain those reinforcements, and some of the ways that we personally try to achieve them are actually destructive to ourselves or to others rather than productive.  This inappropriate defense of external conditions leads to many disputes and wars.

Given the nature of our human life, and our limited capacities to cope and adapt, most of us engage in frequent distortions of reality to soothe our troubled feelings!  All of us would like to believe, whether true or not, that (1) the world is basically beneficent; (2) most things will “turn out all right;” (3) we are essentially safe; (4) we “will be OK” despite current problems or pain; (5) our perceptions are accurate (so that our predictions are accurate); (6) we “understand what’s going on” (so that we can take proper care of ourselves and will not be surprised by dangers in the world); (7) people will not turn on us unexpectedly; and (8) things generally are not our fault.  If we did not maintain some semblance of these beliefs, many of us would be unacceptably anxious, depressed, and cynical.  Most of us are willing to distort reality in order to be able to continue to believe these comforting and very fundamental assumptions, even in the face of contradictory evidence. 

People are motivated first to meet survival needs and attain a sense of security, and they will act aggressively to accomplish these things if necessary.  (Next in priority is the desire to be in a positive subjective state–to be feeling some pleasant emotion or feeling and not to be feeling pain or painful feelings, and this includes feeling positively about oneself.)

Most of us avoid thinking (except to seek a short-term solution to a current concrete problem) (and we are suspicious of those who do try to think).

Human beings are endowed with great capacity for joy and satisfaction.

We have marvelous cognitive capacities for coping with our existential situation (although our capacities are definitely limited compared to the information in the universe that could be known).

We have a great deal of evolutionarily-developed “wisdom” (if we would only pay attention to it).

If we are treated well in childhood, we automatically have good self-esteem.

Our bodies are marvelous entities, very well adapted to our environment.

We can be flexible in our thinking, as long as we are not overly attached to “the way things are” or “the way things were.”

Due to our differing experience, each person has his or her own “reality,” that is different from every other person’s “reality.”  Because experience is so complex, this means that you can never know another person’s reality or experience exactly.

Given the limitations of our human sensory systems and brains, no human being ever fully knows “the truth” but has only his or her own version of it.  Since these versions often contradict each other, and since differing assertions about the same reality cannot both be correct in a factual sense, this means that a number of your beliefs and assertions about reality may be relatively “wrong.”

In response to the realities of life, we all feel fear, anxiety, insecurity, vulnerability, and helplessness, whether we are consciously aware of these feelings or not.  (If we can manage these feelings adaptively, it is advantageous to feel them rather than deny them, because that enables us to empathize more fully with others.)

All behavior is motivated.  Everything we do, we do for a reason, whether or not we know consciously what it is.  You cannot, therefore, truthfully answer “nothing” or “no reason” to questions about why you did what you did or what you meant by what you said or did.

Because we are completely separate individuals, people are naturally basically selfish, and all behavior is self-interested.  We look out fundamentally for ourselves first, but we can also believe and act on the belief that our welfare depends on helping others to have good lives, too.

Fully acknowledging our feelings, needs, and motives may be humbling and sometimes painful, but it frees us to make better choices in life, and it allows us to feel closer to others.

Our feelings and needs are such important aspects of our selves that we cannot have good self-esteem if we identify them as “bad.”

Repeating the past (even with bad outcomes) and believing the world to be predictable are preferable for most people to changing their ideas or behaviors and therefore possibly feeling better.


We tend to try to take advantage of others whenever we can get away with it, instead of treating others fairly and as equals.

All human beings that are paying attention are at some level afraid of each other and realize that others form the greatest threat of harm.

Human beings are all potentially violent.

Human beings all act basically out of self-interest (what they believe will be in their own best interest).

Human beings have much greater potential for tolerating and getting along with those they define as being “in” their groups (which usually excludes at least everyone outside of one’s nation).

Human beings have an evolutionary tendency to fight to protect their groups (family, town, nation).

Human beings generally care about only those with whom they have direct family or activity connection.

Many people are quite willing to harm and take advantage of others in order to get what they want.

Human beings are much less likely to engage in violence if they feel that their basic needs for survival, security, and self-esteem are met.

Political, governmental, and religious leaders all have special incentives to assert their dominance with those of other groups, which increases the risks of violence between groups.

People inherently tend to “line up” with those around them and adopt the emotions and beliefs of those around them, without considering the meaning, value, or truth of those emotions and beliefs.

People in groups are more willing to act violently as a group than they are individually.

A prominent way that people seek self-esteem is to find or imagine ways that they are “better than” others and then claim superiority over those others based on these supposed “reasons.”  This creates conflicts with those who are defined as inferior, and these conflicts can lead to violence.

Ignorance (including ignorance due to avoidance of thinking or simply failure to think) contributes greatly to most justifications that people use to harm others or feel superior to others.

Most people are capable of loving well.

We can form attachments with others that are lifelong and which we will defend to the death.

We have considerable empathy capacities, which can make relations with others positive and comfortable.

All human interactional or human relations problems result from dishonesty, rejection of being responsible, failures in empathy, lack of concern about others, the desire to be superior to others, insistence that life be fair, insistence that others be like us, failure to control behavior, and rejection of the principle of reciprocity.   Human relationships will improve as these problems and tendencies are improved.

We are all tempted to mistreat others for our own advantage.

We all fear being fully ourselves, because we fear that who we are will not be accepted by others.  Our experiences of not being accepted (infant and early childhood socialization, including language, toilet training, and eating issues) are the fundamental basis for poor self-esteem, and it means that most people are still hiding significant truths about themselves from everyone else.

Most people learn to publically portray emotions that they do not have and espouse things that they do not really believe, in order to curry favor with those around them.  This can have its rewards in terms of the reactions of others (since those others feel more comfortable if they think that those around them are similar to themselves), but it also puts more distance between our real selves and our public personas.

No one has the right to punish us as adults for wanting what we want or the right to deprive us of what we want simply because we want it.


Life is uncertain and contains dangers.  If we can acknowledge the uncertainties and dangers of life, including our own uncertainties and tendency to distort, we can avoid much conflict, both internal and with others, about our differing views of reality (because views of reality are often distorted in order to reduce our feelings of fear and helplessness about the uncertainties and dangers of life).

Life is not fair.  There are heartrending examples around us every day of the inequities of life (disease, “bad luck,” “being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the fickleness of our fellow human beings, the errors of juries, etc.).  Some are able to pretend that someone is actually in charge of life who ultimately has our best interests at heart, even if we cannot perceive that interest, and some other people are not able to pretend this.

We are all highly dependent on our fellow human beings (even though we like to pretend that we are autonomous and can get along by ourselves).  We seek (and some crave) to feel in control, but no matter how much we try to control ourselves, others, and the world around us, in truth, life is still often capricious and ultimately unpredictable (for us, at least, given our level of ability to understand and predict).  Because of our dependence, it is adaptive to understand others well using our observations and our empathy.

We will all experience losses of significant others.

Death could come to you today.  This awareness, if it is acknowledged without undue fear, can help us to keep perspective on what is really important in life.

No one else can in the long run make us feel basically OK.  Only we can do that for ourselves (partly using the feedback of others about us).

The self-esteem of most people is so fragile that they seek external reasons to feel OK about themselves (the approval of parents or others, achievements, status, racial identity, etc.).

We are better off planning, choosing, and behaving according to reality rather than according to some distorted view of reality, and we are better off being in touch with reality than pretending that reality considerations can be evaded or ignored.  This means giving up your option to distort to save your feelings or to get what you want and your option to use distortions to justify mistreatment of others in order to get what you want.  (This is ultimately a matter of faith, since some percentage of persons actually benefit at least materially and sometimes in family loyalty terms also, from distorting reality, just as some people benefit from mistreating others and do not seem to receive retribution or pay-back in this life.)

While there are decision-making advantages to being fully aware of reality, for most of us, to do so results in unpleasant feelings that we must tolerate and learn to live with (e.g., acknowledging the faults and errors of our parents and other heroes).  This is why so many people create belief systems for themselves that contain significant errors.

Even though it makes sense that we will make better decisions and have better relationships from being fully aware of reality, it is not clear how many people can actually tolerate being fully aware of reality.

The issues that inject the most error into our decisions are (1) ignoring the possible impact on us of likely events far in the future and (2) ignoring the impact that our behavior will have on others (since it will change their behavior toward us).

Since we are not in control of everything, it is best to do all we wish to do to gain the outcomes we desire and then to accept that sometimes things don’t work out as we wish they would.


We can never fully understand the “reality” of another person.  Through empathy we hope to understand enough that we can get along well with others and work together, but we will never fully understand another person’s experience.

Our experience is so complex and multifaceted that we cannot be aware of all of it, and we do not even register very much of it in memory.  For the same reason we can never put our full experience of life into our communications to others, even if we were willing to do so.  Even more importantly, because our experience is so complex, we cannot represent it completely in our communications or in our best efforts to describe our experience orally or in writing.  The verbal capacities of most people are so limited that they distort their communications by their choice of words or phrasing, and they generally only communicate cliches that they associate with their actual experience, rather than a description of their moment-to-moment uniqueness.

In casual interactions, because our individual views of reality are complex, and because it is quite threatening to us to have these views questioned, it is best not to fight over others’ views of reality, unless they cause us not to be able to cooperate for mutual benefit, and even then it is often better to separate from those other persons rather than to try to force them to change their views of reality.

No one is “better than” anyone else in basic worth.  All claims to be “better than” someone else are constructed for self-serving reasons.  Groups may construct these reasons that they are better than others, as well as individuals.

Others almost never like or love us for who we are but instead like or love us because of the effects we have on them (what we do for them).

Even the most unconditional parental love is instinctual and not chosen.

Every other person understands and interprets our behavior differently, which makes it clearly impossible for us to please everyone.

We need others in order to live successful lives.

We must cooperate with others in order to achieve what we all want.  If we consistently take advantage of others in these supposed efforts to cooperate, they will tend not to want to cooperate with us further.

We will get more out of life over the long term if we view the welfare of others as important to us rather than taking advantage of others whenever we can.

It maximizes benefit to oneself, in the long run, to maximize benefit at all times to everyone involved.

Every time we mistreat others by putting our own interests ahead of those of others, by treating them as inferior, or by treating them unfairly, we create hurt and pain in others as well as anger and desire for revenge in them toward us.

We all yearn for fairness in life, and we will hold out forever for the righting of wrongs done to us by others.  Since others will also hold out forever for the righting of wrongs we do to them, we should learn to maximize the outcomes of our relationships with others by always treating others fairly.

If we can acknowledge our true feelings, thoughts, and motives, we have a better chance of getting what we want while minimizing conflicts with others.

Since we are the only ones who can control how we act, and since how we feel has a strong effect on how we act, life works better when individuals are responsible for their tendencies and habits to react emotionally in the ways that they do. 

In order to have mutually satisfying relationships, we must be aware of and shape how we impact others.

Life works better when we view individuals as responsible for managing their own emotions (but this doesn’t remove our responsibility for the impact of our behavior on others).

Because of the human tendency to wish that others would act and/or change so that we will get more gratifications and have less pain, life works better if we do not blame others for our own emotions or for the impact of their emotions on us, unless those others are purposely trying inappropriately to cause us to have those emotions.  (It is useful to recognize how others’ behavior is impacting us, but it is generally not useful to “blame” them.)

Since our desires are all equally important to us as individuals, and no one is really any “better than” anyone else, life works better when we all make room for everyone’s desires to be at least partially fulfilled.

Because people are mainly self-interested, because we need cooperative interactions with others in order to have the lives we desire, and because we are only content when our interactions with others are fair and equitable in our opinion—

life works better when individuals are held morally responsible for all of the negative impacts that their behaviors have on others;

life works better when individuals are held ethically responsible for all of the negative impacts that their behaviors have on others, within the bounds of group  expectations;

life works better when individuals are legally responsible   for not engaging  in proscribed behaviors.

Since we are basically self-interested, and since we can never know enough about others to choose what is best for them, life works better when we choose to do what is truly best for ourselves, which is possible to do as long as we take into account all of the results of our behavior (long-term as well as short-term, including our impact on others which affects their behavior toward us).

Since we demand fairness and fundamental equity in our relationships with others, fundamental equality is the basis for distributing resources in society that will lead to the least conflict and violence.

Since sub-grouping automatically creates the perception that the interests of different human beings are different, life works better when we include all human beings in our reference group (defining who is “us” and who is “them”).

Appropriate empathy is necessary as a support for expanding one’s reference group (who is “us” and who is “them”).

We can get more by being open and cooperative than we can get by being secretive and competitive.


No one can be fully trusted to do the right thing, including ourselves.  Human beings will never adhere to rules or principles one hundred percent of the time, because their willfulness and self-centeredness inevitably result in deviating from the rules at certain times.

People are not “bad” for wanting, although they may employ “bad” behaviors to get what they want.

Feelings, needs, motives, and beliefs are not “good” or “bad” as such, but rather they may be either constructive or destructive to self and others.


Conformity is much more important than individualism for the maintenance of order in society.  No one can survive very long without order and predictability in society.

Consumerism benefits us materially and in terms of material gratifications, but it also tends to make us more competitive with each other and more envious of each other.

Authority figures (our parents, police officers, judges, the president, the boss, etc.) and societal institutions (church, government, school) are not necessarily right in what they do or say, and being human beings or led by human beings, they are prone to error and to distortion for self-serving purposes.  The things that they tell us are not necessarily true.

Since our desires are equally important to us as individuals, and since we strive for fairness and equality, the long-term trend in government across the world is toward democracy.

While competition may result in people working harder in the short term, competition acts ultimately to increase distrust between persons and to decrease cooperative behavior.

Interactional systems, such as a version of capitalism that assumes that each person is totally responsible for his or her outcomes, promote envy, competition, and taking advantage of others when possible, while at the same time improving the material welfare of most people involved.


Since life inevitably involves pain, it’s OK that life involves some pain.  (We are better off making “life inevitably involves some pain” one of our expectations about reality.)

Since life does require effort and is sometimes difficult, it’s best to have the view that it is OK that life requires effort and is sometimes difficult.

Since we are more adaptive in life when we face our feelings and live with them, it’s best to have the view that it is OK to face one’s feelings and live with them.

Since we are more adaptive when we have more accurate reality perceptions, and since life involves problems, it’s best if we have the view that it is OK to face life’s problems and not turn away.

It’s OK to take yourself and life seriously and to try your best even though you may fail.

Humor and joy can be found in every reality.       

Since we are bound to be unhappy part of the time, it’s best to have the view that it as OK to be unhappy part of the time, even while we do our best to improve the percentage of time that we are happy.

Since we are not perfect and never can be, it’s best to have the view that it is OK not to be perfect, even while we strive to become as adaptive as possible.

Since others will never be perfect, it’s OK to allow them to be imperfect.

Since we cannot please others all of the time, and since we resent having to please others all of the time, it is best if we have the view that it as OK not to please others all of the time.