Situations Matter

“We’re easily seduced by the notion of stable character.
So much of who we are, how we think, and what we do is
driven by the situations we’re in, yet we remain blissfully unaware of it.”

— Sam Sommers


Situations Matter is an excellent book that should give you a leg up in life.

One of the lessons of modern psychological research is that ‘the situation’ we find ourselves in influences us. If you’ve ever wondered about why you are not as independent-minded as you think or about the difference between men and women this is a great book.

A summary paragraph:

So much of how we see and interact with the social universe around is shaped by our immediate context. … seemingly trivial aspects of daily situations determine whether we keep to ourselves or get involved in the affairs of others, whether we follow a group or stake out on an independent path, why we’re drawn to certain people and away from others.

As Sam Sommers points out, “once you start paying attention to situations there’s no going back.” Sommers argues, “People are easy to see. They’re tangible. Context is harder: it’s an abstract, nebulous concept, a backdrop that can be downright invisible. Precisely because situations are difficult to see, effort is required to recognize their influence.”

The context in which we make decisions matters. Stress might mean we don’t consider all the options or we become paralyzed. Focusing on an outcome means we miss what’s possible. When we’re rushed, we’re not paying attention to obvious signals and warnings. It’s hard to make good decisions when you have blind spots.

If you want to understand why someone made a particular decision or is behaving in a certain way, put yourself in their shoes. If you see what they see, suddenly the behaviour or decision becomes rational.

Not only are others blind to the larger context but we are often blind to their context. Only by zooming out and looking at the situations through the eyes of multiple people, can you begin to acquire perspective. And perspective is the key to removing blind-spots.