By Fredrick Philantrope
DISCLAIMER: I do not intend to argue that professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, economists, etc. are misguided in doing their jobs. I wholly accept that professionals have expertise and should be consulted when seeking advice, pertinent to their discipline, to reach an objective end, such as in the diagnoses and treatment of medical conditions or effective strategies to managing and investing money. This discourse is aimed at exploring the subjective implications of people asserting they know what’s in another person’s best interest, which entails having aligned aspirations.
To answer the question: Only you know what’s best for you… or are capable of knowing.
Isn’t it crazy that people believe they could possibly know what’s in the best interest of another individual? From an affluent, or otherwise privileged, individual insisting on attitudes and behaviors that indigent persons should adopt to “better” themselves to parents instilling their own—or society’s—values into their offspring, it’s all rooted in a misconceived assumption. Namely, that the two people’s or groups’ objectives are aligned. This isn’t necessarily true. I mean, think about it: each person is unique with respect to every other person inhabiting the earth, and has or ever will inhabit it. Even in the case of identical twins, who are as genetically similar to one another as separate organisms can be, their development—ultimately, towards differentiation—is influenced by nurture related factors, in addition to the variant genetic, or nature, factors. As a result, people have varying interests, desires, and aspirations, among a myriad of other things. The limitless variation and combination of these factors contributes to making every individual unique, and to the distinction of their preferences.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines the word sonder (n.) as: the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk. (Finder’s credit goes to YouTuber Vsauce, who mentioned the word in his video titled “The Science of Awkwardness”) In short, objectively, each person’s life is as complex—and uniquely so—as the next, contributing to our sui generis character. Consequently, this added layer of complexity combined with the distinction in our preferences means that each individual is solely capable of discerning what is in their best interest. The conception of a person’s “best interest” is subjective, varying from person to person. What a parent determines is in their child’s best interest may very well conflict with what a teacher or expert would conclude—excluding those who have a financial incentive to influence a child towards a particular path, as in a youth martial arts instructor who needs students to sustain his or her business. And this doesn’t even consider that people often engage in hyperbole and relentless promotion of their interests and positive experiences while also discrediting the merit of a product or establishment that they found unpleasant, to friends, family, and strangers, without regard for any differences in preference or compatibility. For example, a person claiming that an exclusively Italian restaurant serves the best food in the town to another person who abhors anything associated with that country.
So then, what would you say is in your “best interest”? Isn’t that a more relevant and valuable consideration than what an outside individual would prescribe for you? Someone who cannot thoroughly appreciate the essence of your identity—your thoughts, desires, aspirations, and intricacies. Even the best of your friends will have trouble grasping the nuances of your identity, because everything each person experiences and perceives throughout life is filtered through the lens of biases and schemas, which have developed and been reinforced through years of unique experience, reflection, and mental processing. All of this is further influenced by a person’s cognitive capability and perspective. For example, imagine an individual who’s able to delineate opposing sides of an argument, weighing out the pros and cons of each. A choice is ultimately presented: To align with one of the opposing sides, or to remain neutral. Often times people choose the former, perhaps due to overlapping values, beliefs, or interests, or out of ignorance of the latter option. In regard to many dual-sided arguments, I tend to think that neither side is wrong in its conclusion, objectively speaking; it is usually the case that a persuasive enough argument is not presented to convert dissenters into conformers.
So, why then is it that people erroneously, and often inconsiderately, assert that they know what is in the best interest of another person? The simple explanation is mindlessness; carelessness; ignorance. However, I suspect a more intricate phenomenon is responsible. I believe this is a manifestation of the Dunning-Krueger effect that affects people of high and low intelligence in a similar manner. Combined with an absence of empathy, people lack the requisite self-awareness that would enable them to recognize that each individual is unique and lives a life as complex as themselves, which would preclude them from being able to discern what is truly in someone else’s best interest. For instance, what if an indigent person, through weighing their options, decides that being destitute is the preferable lifestyle for them? What if a person, generally regarded as self-destructive, derives pleasure from their socially unacceptable tendencies? Perhaps I am completely off base with my hypothesis, and the assertion is rooted in compassion and wanting to help others. Who really knows, right?