In previous posts (eg, here and here), I have talked about the difficulty of assessing the intentions of others, whether for marketing or for computer network design or for national security. The standard English phrase speaks of “putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes”. But this is usually not sufficient: we have to put them into their shoes, with their beliefs, their history, their desires, and their constraints, not ourselves, in order to understand their goals and intentions, and to anticipate their likely strategies and actions. In a fine political thriller by Henry Porter, I come across this statement (page 220):
‘Motive is always difficult to read,’ he replied. ‘We make a rational assumption about someone’s behaviour based on what we would, or would not, do in the same circumstances, ignoring the otherness of the other. We consider only influences that make us what we are and impose those beliefs on them. It is the classic mistake of intelligence analysis.’ “
Henry Porter : The Dying Light. London, UK: Orion Books.
Obscure fact: Porter (born 1953) is the grand-nephew of novelist Howard Sturgis (1855-1920), step-cousin to George Santayana (1863-1952).
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