We’re better at solving other people’s problems than our own, because detachment yields objectivity.
King Solomon, the third leader of the Jewish Kingdom, is regarded as the epitome of knowledge and wise judgment. It’s narrated that during his long reign, people traveled great distances to consult him. But his personal life was a mess of poor decisions and unbridled desires. He kept hundreds of pagan wives and concubines, and also loved money, masking show of his wealth. He neglected to instruct his only son, who grew up to be an inept tyrant. All these sins and misjudgments had a role on the collapse of the kingdom.
Igor Grossmann, the psychological scientist who coined this term, has been trying to understand why we tend to be smarter about other people’s problems than our own, and what we can do about it.
According to his research (Grossmann, Kross, 2014), when we distance ourselves from the problem at hand, we can judge it more clearly.
To confirm this, he recruited a group of volunteers who had been in a long-term romantic relationship. He asked some of them to imagine a scenario where their partner cheated on them. The others were asked to imagine a scenario where their best friend was being cheated upon.
The volunteers were then asked to fill in a questionnaire to test their wisdom in judging the situation.
As expected, those who “were being cheated upon” demonstrated less wisdom about their situation than their peers in the other group.
Then he tried a second experiment, using the same setup and procedure, with volunteers being split up in the same way.
This time however, those “being cheated upon” were asked to psychologically distance themselves from the situation by taking a third-person perspective. So, instead of asking themselves, “Why do I feel this way?”, they asked themselves, “Why does he/she feel this way?”
What Grossmann and his colleagues found, was that the psychological distancing allowed the participants to assess their relationship conflict with more wisdom.In fact, the two groups were indistinguishable in their judgement.
So, next time you’re in a rough situation, try judging it from an outsider’s perspective. Rather than asking yourself, “Why am I behaving this way?” ask, “Why is he/she behaving this way? What should he/she do?”
You might find it gives you Solomon-esque clarity in judgment, and possibly save you some needless heartache.