What we Choose to Reveal: On Mind Games we Play

What we Choose to Reveal: On Mind Games we Play

“After all, we are nothing more or less than what we choose to reveal. What I am to Claire is not what I am to Zoe, just as Zoe is not to me what she is to her father”. Frank Underwood (House of Cards)

I am a big fan of the Netflix series House of Cards. Frank Underwood is obviously a caricature, but I believe there is  a little Frank Underwood in each an every one of us. Most of us do try to have our cake and eat it too from time to time even though this strategy often backfires in the long run.

In the end, it is important to accept that people “play games” with each other if you want to get anywhere in life. Some people – even “smart” people – will vehemently deny ever having ulterior motives, but people who are one hundred percent straightforward all of the time are few and far between. I believe I only know one person out of hundreds of acquaintances who is this “naive”.  Of course, the TRULY naive people are those who believe that they themselves don’t play games. Almost all of us do. It is a built-in psychological mechanism also known as the self-serving bias, inescapable, even for the best of us.

Human psychology is a funny thing…It is interesting how biased we tend to be towards supporting that which is best for ourselves. I used to be very idealistic and naive in my view of people, but as I learned more and more about human psychology, I also understood that people are often unaware of the real motivations behind what they do. And, in fact, this knowledge made it easier for me to accept people (and myself) for who they are: Imperfect beings.

We are often overly biased because we don’t understand how our emotions are connected to the things that happen to us. Long-term exposure to something that doesn’t fit well with our self-image, for example, will cause us to develop certain “fundamentalist” attitudes. Be aware of those, both in yourself and in other people.

One example is certain strains of feminism. At least those who I have been exposed to who identifies themselves as “feminist”, shows signs of having unrealistic expectations of men and especially of themselves in relation to men. These women will never be happy if they never stop to take an objective look at the reality that they live in.

Entirely in the same vein, self-identified “nice guys” have negative views of women because they have not taken the time to understand their own self-defeating behaviors and to correct them before they ended up having long-term negative effects to their self-image.

So an important, even necessary  life lesson is not to take everything at face value. If you suspect something shifty going on, something shifty might be going on. You might even be fooling yourself, so don’t just go looking for suspicious behavior in other people, start with yourself. Trust your instinct, it is a finely tuned instrument evolved for the same. Trust it or wither.

Of course, sometimes, “ulterior” motives can be perfectly fine if both parties are aware of the others approach to the situation, which they often are. I may not agree when an acquaintance chooses to be with a girl entirely because of her looks while she in turn chooses to be with him because of his economic status, both disregarding each others personalities, but I understand why such a mutual agreement can be made. In such situations, I  used to say that she was obviously using the guy for her own gain, but in all honesty, the same can be said of him. There are always two sides of the coin and things are not always entirely what they seem to be when looking from the outside.

Some people, of course, expect everyone to be playing mind games all of the time, and feel that their only defense is to do the same. The logic of this strategy is that the best defense is a good offense. The only problem with applying such a strategy in the long run is that it is easy to see through, at least for the well trained in the same. All is fair in love and war, but there is always a catch to thinking of yourself as being too smart. You might just be too smart for your own good.

Enter House of Cards. As it so perfectly shows (or will show, before the series end), in the end, you only get what you give, there is no way around that, not even for the most clever of us. Unfortunately, many of us need to be reminded of this ever so often. There are those who think they are master manipulators, and those who act naively towards manipulation. Both lose.

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Jakob Scheel

Jakob Scheel

Jakob is a Copenhagen-based Anthropologist who does Project Management by day and Photography by night.
Jakob Scheel

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