Why People Do What They Do

First and foremost, I would like to thank Ram and ‘R for inviting me to dinner last night to celebrate ‘R’s most awesome achievement!  ‘R had a commencement ceremony of sorts yesterday for a new chapter in his life.  A lot of hard work went into this, and I am proud that he is my friend. ‘R, you will do a wonderful job.  Kudos to you, my friend.
Okay folks, a somewhat heavy subject, but don’t despair, it has a happy ending!  I am going to explain to you what I felt after 9/11 and how a crucial explanation gave me the information needed to resolve a long unanswered question of mine: WHY do people do what they do?
I imagine most people remember where they were when 9/11 happened. I was at work, but don’t remember exactly where.  Why, when I remember practically everything? Well, because hearing of the actual attack got trumped soon afterwards by something my boss said to me.  That is the actual location I remember.  Here is what she came and said to me, “I hope the terrorists got the President.”  I think that may be the only time I have been truly speechless.  I just looked at her, turned around, gathered my stuff off of my desk and then found the words to say, “I am going home.”

So here’s a synopsis of what happened after I left work that day: I went home and tried to figure out WHY anyone would do this.  WHY would someone come to the U.S. and study to be a pilot, hijack a plane, and intentionally crash the plane into a building and kill thousands of innocent people (along with themselves in the process)?  And WHY would more than one do this? (I could actually rationalize ONE doing it, but many?)  I also tried to figure out WHY my boss would say what she did on such a horrible day.  After hearing terms such as “religious extremist” and “international terrorist”, I was still left clueless.  I have previously stated that I don’t understand religion at all and that I am very much a “whole-picture” type of person.  So what was my solution?  I quit my job and moved back to Lafayette where things made sense.  I even got my two old jobs back.  At least I had income and people and a town that made sense to me.  It was at least a start.

I already explained my English major and how I also picked Political Science as a second major.  Every major has an introductory course of some sort, mine just happened to be enormously valuable.  You see, I got G-7, through some stroke of fate.  He was teaching, “Power and Interest”. (a course I am sure he designed himself)  Somehow, I ended up there and here’s how it started. . .

I got there early and took my seat and watched the others filter in.  I kept eye-balling the guy at the front that looked like a janitor, but seemed like he was there for a purpose. . . Then I kept thinking and remembered an article I had read the previous year in the Exponent about a professor that had his own punk band.  I was beginning to feel like I had hit the lottery without even playing!  So, the appropriate time for class to start finally arrived, and the “janitor” walked to the door and closed it.  He then introduced himself as G-7 (the professor) and explained the rules.  The main one being that today would be the only day that anyone would be allowed in late.  This was duly illustrated “why” as stragglers came in and interrupted his explanation. Then he had to repeat himself each time.  Ha! He values efficiency as well! And fun!

I don’t remember everything from that first class, probably because I was recounting that Exponent article I had read the year before and trying to decipher if this was the same guy. But he explained how the class would work and did a little rap song that he had written.  Yep. I was pretty sure this was the guy. Class got over, I left and went home and immediately googled the Exponent and this guy’s name. Score! It was him.  My professor was in his sixties and had his own punk band. And he also wore a t-shirt, jeans, and a hat. Oh yeah, this is my type of teacher!

Okay, so I’m in. No way am I skipping this dude’s class.  (That was a MAJOR problem for me. Attendance. If I didn’t like the teacher or the material, I just wouldn’t go. Probably because I weighed the importance of my time and energy against something I did not want to do. Also probably why I bounced back and forth between semester honors and academic probation!)  Okay, so here’s the crux of the course. Everyone is motivated by power and interest.  People want to maintain power or achieve more for their own best interest, whatever that may be for each individual. Here’s how the class worked: Each lecture was driven by a different topic, hopefully something a student wanted to discuss. And it could be anything. Our homework for each class was to pick an article with at least two opposing views and analyze where each side was coming from and write a paper about it. This was every day and a most awesome exercise in analyzing perspective.  When I say the topic could be anything, let me give you an example of what my final paper was about: Feral cats.  There is a huge debate about what needs to be done with them. Basically, capture and euthanize or capture, spay/neuter, and tame and adopt, or release back to wild. (future blog topic, btw. Of course I had to try the latter, for research purposes! And a completely hilarious story.)  Okay, so I got POWER and INTEREST finally!  Thank you G-7!

Yet, something was still missing. But as things usually do, it all worked out because he was teaching an Ideologies course the following semester and that provided the final missing link for me to understand WHY people do what they do.  This class worked much the same way, except for one most awesome difference. He taught the class from the different ideologies.  As in, he would take on the persona of a person with a particular ideology and teach from their perspective.  I immediately grasped what he was doing, and I knew he knew I knew by the smile on my face. Everyone else was confused. (or most everyone)  My favorite was when he taught from a middle-class male factory worker perspective.  Ha! That is what I grew up around. Totally amazing perspective performed that day! Kudos G-7!  Okay, so this class explained to me that people also base their decisions on their belief systems, whatever those may be for each individual. THANK YOU!  Picture complete now by adding IDEOLOGIES and you have saved me a ton of energy trying to figure all of this out. That my friends is WHY my total price of admission to Purdue was worth having G-7.  I now understood people!

Aside from me also learning about people, I also learned something else about myself.  If I start getting confused, I need to slow down and back-track a little to where things do make sense and start again in a different direction, because obviously the direction I am heading is the wrong one.  No sense in continuing on in a state of confusion, when you can back up and get back on the right course.  Or at the very least, stop at a rest stop, look at that map with the arrow that says “You are here”, and chart a new way to your destination.  It might be more scenic anyway.  Okay, I’m done for now. Well, almost. . .

I totally bought G-7’s cds and went to Chicago with my friend Mac to see him perform in this seedy little punk club.  Met his wife, drank a “few” brews and had a totally awesome time. My only regret is refusing to get on stage when he tried to get me up there.  Oh well, maybe the occasion will arise again some day.  Cheers!

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