The Questions We Must Ask

Few days go by that we don't rub up against other people. As they approach us or as we come towards them, we consciously and unconsciously ask ourselves the following questions.

Will they satisfy our learned needs or not? Will they supply or deny us the resources that will help us reach our goals? Will they act as barriers to our objectives or will they remove the obstacles in our paths? Will they threaten our zig zags or will they help us feel like the unique somebodies we've got to feel like? Will they threaten our senses of self or help us preserve the persons we need to be? Should we ready our arsenals of defense mechanisms or prepare our coping behaviors to bring them to us? Which onion skins will we have to put into play to protect or enhance our selfs? What will they do and say and how will they do it and say it and how will their behaviors impact my well-being?

It is impossible to avoid, ignore, or escape these questions. I will repeat, it is impossible to avoid, ignore, or escape these questions. In some form, these questions are asked by us all. In all situations, we are anxious for the answers. If we had the answers to these questions in each and every situation, we could choose appropriate behaviors and be the most effective human beings we could possibly be. The answers to these questions would make our interactions with others predictable. If we had this predictability, we could reduce our angst.

The Answers We'll Never Get

As impossible as it is for us to avoid, ignore, or escape these questions, it is just as impossible for us to know the answers. What can we know about anyone else? Not much. We cannot know their zig zags, learned needs, self, or the somebodies they have got to feel like. We cannot know why they do what they do. We cannot know their motives, the reasons they behave in certain ways, or what they will do next (to us). We cannot know their purpose, what they mean, and what they are up to.

To be effective in our dealings with others, we need to know these things. We need to know their motives, purposes, meanings, truths, and reasons for what they do. We need to know what they are likely to do next. But we can't.

All we can really know about others is their behaviors: what they say and do; and how they say and do it. We can know nothing more. Generally, this is not enough for us. Just knowing what their behaviors are is not nearly as useful as knowing the reasons for their behaviors. How can we find out what we cannot know. How do we make sense of what is going on.

The Chasm of Understanding

We forever stand on the edge of a great chasm between what we really know about others and what we need to know about others. This chasm is very wide. This chasm is very deep. To interact with others, we need to cross it.
To get to the other side and try to know what we can't, we must infer. We leap the chasm with inferences about what people do and say and how they do and say it. We have no choice but to infer. Our inferences provide us the answers to the questions we cannot avoid, ignore, or escape. They offer us the predictability we so desperately need when we interact with others. And like our questions these inferences are impossible to avoid, ignore, or escape.

Of all the principles of human behavior I have learned, this principle is the most powerful I have come upon. It permeates everything we do and say. It is how we operate with others. It is how we make sense of the world in us and around us. It applies to all people regardless of culture, upbringing, education, economic conditions, and geographic locations. It is a source of pain and joy in all of our lives. If by some magic I were allowed to give people one thing that would help them live in peace and harmony, this is the principle and process I would want them to understand and use.

Here we'll look at the process, examine each component and its features. We'll also explore some common examples of the principle at work and identify the problems and opportunities the process offers us.

The Data- Inference-Prophecy Process

The process of Data-Inference-Prophecy (DIP) is really rather simple. We gather data, make inferences about the data, and based on those inferences, come up with a prophecy about what will happen next. These are the three levels all of us use to make sense of the world and communicate with one another.

Data Level

Earlier I stated, "All we can know about another person is what he says and does and how he says and does it and nothing more." This is the data with which we make our inferences.
A number of features define the nature of data:

Perceptual Filters
After we have gathered them, the data pass through our perceptual filters. These perceptual filters are our basic assumptions and generalized expectancies we acquired from our experiences. If you grew up in a nuturing, helping, and caring environment and were taught that people were basically good, you may have developed rose-colored filters. These filters would color the data you gather. You would tend to see something someone does and says as being positive. On the other hand, you may have grown up in an environment that taught you to be wary of people, that things are no good, that you can't be too careful, that you had better not trust anyone, or that people are "out to get you." Your filters would tend to color the data you gather negatively. Perceptual filters are the reason that when two of us witness the same data and agree on what happened, we may not agree on what that data mean.

Inference Level

Once we have gathered the data and they have passed through our filers, we have no choice, but to make sense out of the data. In effect, we ask ourselves, "What do the data mean?" We answer this question with inferences.

Inferences are very different from data. They are only guesses, maybe educated guesses, but still guesses about the data and their meaning. Here are the features that distinguish inferences from data.

Prophecy Level
All of us need some degree of predictability. So, after we have gathered the data and made some guesses or inferences about the data, we predict what will happen next. We make prophecies about others to help up deal with them.


Here's the DIP Graphic for easy reference:

Next Page: How We Operate-Part 2 Data-Inference-Prophecy Continued