Why We’re Not Much Different from Vladimir Putin

“People aren’t logical they’re psychological, often with the emphasis on the psycho.” – Howard Rankin

As most of the world criticizes Vladimir Putin for his shameful actions in Ukraine, there’s an ironic and even an alarming lesson in the judgment of his actions.  In some ways we all share something in common with the Russian ruler.

Human beings are not rational but story-tellers, driven byemotional comfort and consistency. Because of this dynamic, people very often don’t change their minds especially over opinions and actions in which they are heavily invested. This applies to everyone, regardless of whether their ideas are rooted in good or evil.

We know that human beings use all manner of mechanisms, especially cognitive biases to justify their beliefs and actions. We see what we want to see,  ignore what we want to ignore. We seek out the similar views of others, whose supportive ideas give “social proof” and validation to our own beliefs. In my upcoming book, Falling to Grace: The Art and Science of Redemption I write about the seven laws of stupidity, from binary thinking to conspiracy theories, that really drive our thought process.

This social proof is even more advanced amongst leaders, who can surround themselves and authorize people who share their same views. Every autocratic leader, therefore, can insulate themselves way more than the average person from the challenge of alternative perspectives. In addition, this egotistical state is even more prevalent in people with power and fame, in what’s called “situational narcissism”.  Their fame and power colors their views of themselves and can elevate them in their own minds to a god-like status.

Most of us find it very difficult to change our religious perspectives, political views, or even which NFL team we support. We hold on to them with a rigid, and sometimes angry certainty. The three most important words in any language are seldom used, “I don’t know.” And three other words one rarely hears are even more important: “I was wrong.”

If we have such a hard time changing our perspectives and opinions, consider the chances that an autocratic leader who sees himself as the savior of his people, will ever change his mind in any way, let alone reverse course.  And when such a leader has surrounded himself with teams of people who share the same opinion, can we really expect confrontation to change any of the minds of the inner circle? Indeed, the more they are confronted, the more they are likely to defend their beliefs.

Ironically, the way Putin could restore his credibility and even respect around the world would be to effectively say those three  words: I was wrong, or something close to that, like “I made a miscalculation” or “I really thought we would be welcomed by most Ukrainians.” Of course, politicians and pretty much everyone with a big ego hardly ever admit their human faults and errors. Not admitting your mistakes is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

People hardly ever admit to being wrong: pride often gets in the way. I have found, from my personal experiences of being cast into shame, humiliation and disgrace, that admitting your errors and sins is one of the most powerful things you could ever do. That is one piece of advice that I give in my upcoming book Falling to Grace: The Art and Science of Redemption

So, if you are thinking that Putin and his cronies are going to change their minds about Ukraine or anything else, you are almost certainly indulging in an exercise of your own wishful thinking.