Understand the World: Learn How People and Society Function

If it seems like the world makes no sense, it's because you don't know enough about the world.
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In The Matrix, Neo has to choose between the red pill and the blue pill. One represents the uncomfortable truth, the other a comfortable lie.

When asked, most of us would opt for the red pill — “the truth” — same as Neo. We don’t want to be cowards who hide behind lies and ignore reality. We want to be heroes, different from other “sheep” who just do what they’re told. But when it comes to actually accepting that uncomfortable truth, we suddenly turn blue.

The harsh truth is this: The world functions a certain way whether you like it or not. It doesn’t matter how you think the world should work, it’s how it actually works.

Philosopher Martin Heidegger explained how you cannot look at yourself outside of your environment, as there is no you without the world. You exist in the world, and that same world is constantly shaping you as a person, with the interactions you go through, the things you experience, and the ideas you are influenced by.

We often like to pretend we exist in a vacuum, as that gives us the illusion of total control over our lives. But this is simply not true. Your environment matters more than you think.

Accepting this is a hard pill to swallow. It’s like Morpheus offered you a blue pill and a red pill, but before you could decide, he shoved both of them down your throat. That’s the uncomfortable truth: even if you willfully choose to ignore reality, it won’t change what the reality is. You will just be unaware of it.

Whether you want to change the world or simply thrive in it, you need to accept how it currently works. No good can come from ignoring how people and society function.

The world makes sense if you understand it

We often like to believe that the world is an erratic place that makes no sense and has zero explanation. If you believe this, know that it is a very limiting worldview, one that is preventing you fro actually learning how the world functions.

  • Is the world unpredictable? Yes.
  • Is the world oftentimes cruel and immoral? Yes.
  • Do people act crazy a lot of the time? Yes.

All of these things are true. Yet, all of them can be explained in some way. Even if they can’t, it doesn’t mean they are unexplainable, only that we do not have enough knowledge to explain them right now. 200 years ago, we were oblivious to many issues of a psychological nature. 500 years people couldn’t comprehend electricity. 2 million years ago, people hadn’t even discovered fire.

When we can’t explain something, we make up stories. Lightning bolts from the sky? It’s Zeus. Half the world is dying from a mysterious disease? We have sinned and gods are punishing us. Somebody insulted me on the subway the other day? People are evil and cruel and fuck them all.

But as you learn more about the world, it becomes less mysterious. As James T. Kirk once said: “There’s no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”

To understand the world, be curious and empathetic

My best friend and I often laugh at how stupid we were when we were younger. And we specifically like to laugh at how ignorant we were to “the signals”. You know, when a girl gives you “signals” that she likes you.

I used to tease my friend that a girl could stand in front of him, waving flags around like she’s signaling an airplane, and yell out — “I LIKE YOU! YES, YOU! I LIKE YOU!” — and he would still come to me and say: “I don’t think she likes me, man.”

I was n stranger to this myself. At the beginning of college, I walked into a crowded auditorium, sat down at my desk, and saw a beautiful girl in a crowd of people. She wasn’t the prettiest, she wasn’t the cutest, but some unknown force attracted me to her.

While I was coming up with a complicated plan on how to talk to her, she just walked over and said: “Hey, do you have a pen I can borrow? Mine is not working.”

I was ecstatic. My heart was beating fast, my legs started shaking, and I could feel the drops of sweat sliding down my forehead.

She had to walk past fifty other people to come and ask me for that pen. It’s not that she really needed it, she just wanted to talk to me. In hindsight, it’s obvious. It’s ridiculously obvious. She might as well have been waving flags around yelling: “I LIKE YOU! YES, YOU! I LIKE YOU!”

But the funny thing is… what was on my mind at the time was: “I don’t think she likes me, man.”

Despite the flood of signals that she is into me, I missed them all. We texted for a bit, spent more time together, and she kept dropping hints that she wants me to ask her out. I never picked up the clues. Instead, I was focused using some stupid pickup tricks and techniques to get her interested… without realizing she already was.

Once she turned cold and distant, my naive young brain concluded: “Girls make no sense, they play games, they pretend to be interested, blablabla.” I was desperate as I genuinely believed that her behavior — like a lot of other things in the world — simply doesn’t make sense. But as it’s obvious to you reading this, it makes perfect sense. My ignorance was ultimately my downfall.

Don’t make the same mistake as I did.

How to Understand the World Better

Maybe you’re still trying to figure out “the signals” people send. Maybe it’s a girl or a guy you like. Maybe you’re in a new group of people and you’re not sure how to behave. Maybe you’re confused about why people treat you a certain way.

Some of the biggest frustrations from people who don’t understand the world are:

  • “Why would someone do that? It makes no sense.”
  • “Why doesn’t he/she just say if she likes me? How am I supposed to know?”
  • “Why do people play games with me? Everybody should always be honest.”

Maybe it’s something else. Dealing with struggle and unexpected events. Understanding how people behave in groups. Politics at play at work.

Understanding people and their behavior can be confusing. Especially since there isn’t a definitive list of signals to learn or a tutorial on how to interpret them. This is something you can’t learn the classic way. You have to learn to feel it.

The first step in this is to look at things differently.

We often don’t like to acknowledge this, but our brains interpret things very wrongly by default. This is evident by an endless amount of cognitive biases every human being has. These biases, combined with your own experiences and expectations, create a very personal, subjective view of the world. That view differs from the view other people have.

It’s only by understanding your own biases, group dynamics, and how certain things work that you will be able to accept the irrefutable rules of the world we live in.

Start Here: Best Articles for Understanding the World

Mind of Steel is a philosophy that promotes building mental strength in various aspects of your life. Here are the most popular articles for understanding how the world works. You can find a list of all articles on this topic if you scroll down.

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Understand the World — all articles

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