“If you loved me you would have called,” declared my now-ex-girlfriend.
“What? I’m sorry, I didn’t see that in the rulebook, what page is it on?” I quipped.
We didn’t last much longer.
This was back in my twenties, and this woman I was dating was fond of marking out everything I did that displeased her as evidence that I didn’t love her. It was also a bit of a control-through-guilt tactic. It underlined what I later discovered was a core issue in many relationships – mismatched models.
What are your models?
When I was a boy, I used to love to build model airplanes. Snapping together little plastic parts to make a bomber or a fighter warmed my little heart. People would look at my model and say, “Nice Spitfire!”
Only it wasn’t a Spitfire, it was a model. As much as I wanted it to, it couldn’t make strafing runs. It represented something in reality—an actual fighter plane. That’s what models are: representations of something in reality.
There are many different kinds of models. I spent twenty-two years writing computer software. Most of that time was spent creating models of processes or interactions. Excellent computer software models the things it represents efficiently. The same is true for your mental models.
Everything in your experience is represented by models in your consciousness. You have mental models of what things are, like toothbrushes and political movements. You have mental models (called beliefs) of truth. You have mental models of the relative importance of things called values. You have mental models of qualities like good and bad and what stuff fit into them.
These models are all learned or constructed. Mostly they are unconscious – we’re not aware of our accessing or applying them.
Models are imperfect.
All models share a couple of essential characteristics. Philosopher Alfred Korzybski famously said that “the map is not the territory” and that “the word is not the thing.” Models delete information. My plastic airplane model did not include a little working engine and electrical system. That was unnecessary for its purpose.
Imagine if your GPS had to accurately reflect the contents of the refrigerator of every house on the street you were driving down. That level of information is completely unnecessary and counter-productive.
Mental models are cognitive shortcuts to help us think more efficiently. Think about our ancient ancestors out looking for food. If they had to relearn what a tiger was every time they saw a different one – they would have been food. Models help us generalize.
I don’t have to know if a tiger is 250 pounds or 475 pounds to know that it is dangerous. All models reflect some level of inaccuracy. Beyond the fact that they delete information, they also distort information.
The GPS in your phone is generally accurate within a 16-foot radius. This is totally fine for driving around, but you couldn’t use it to measure a long-jump attempt. Likewise, you wouldn’t be able to use a map and a measuring tape to drive your car around.
When it comes to mental models, we all suffer from things called cognitive biases. These are deviations from logic that all humans are prone to. Depending on who you ask, humans may display over 100 cognitive biases. Further, our perceptions and memories aren’t objective. Studies show eyewitness testimony to be unreliable. Memory and perception are both constructed experiences.
So, we know we have these mental representations of things—truth, and love, and what good sex is like—so how do we get into trouble?
Our models of things are shaped by our experiences, and no two human beings have ever had an identical set of experiences. Even sitting next to someone on a roller-coaster gives you a different perspective than the other person.
Our models construct our reality. Tigers are dangerous; tigers frequent the watering hole after dark; stay away from the watering hole at night.
Threats to our models can feel existential. They threaten our ability to cope with the world. On a macro scale, model mismatches between groups of people lead to things like religious war and genocide. This plays out on social media with simple arguments over political ideology, or religion. On the level of interpersonal relationship, gaps in meaning can create serious conflict. “If you loved me, you would take out the trash.”
Why is it important to understand this?
I believe that holding one’s personal set of models as objective reality is a distortion which leads to many of the ills in the world. An understanding that every person’s truth is different – not better or worse can increase empathy.
With increased empathy, there is less conflict and more harmony.
The next time you are in conflict with someone, explore the idea that you may have a mismatch of models. That person’s experience is being filtered through things they’ve learned that are way different than your own.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
We have pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Your support of our work is inspiring and invaluable.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all-access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class, and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group, and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Pixabay