Irrationality and Eastern Hospitality – Is There A Link?

Yes, as a matter of fact. Only it’s probably not what you might be tempted to think. Ok, ok, so I used a pompous and controversial title to capture your attention and to stir your interest. Did it work? ­čśë

It’s been a while since I first stumbled upon Dan Ariely and his extensive research into human irrationality. And yet, somehow, I cannot get it out of my head. And the subject keeps popping up. In a course on Critical Thinking on Iversity, Romanian professor Radu Atanasiu from the Maastricht School of Management in Bucharest, also brings it up. He has a point. To learn┬ávalid and sound reasoning, we first have to be fully aware of how irrational we really are most of the time.

If you’re like most people, you probably think of magistrates as some of the more rational beings among us. After all, it is a profession that epitomizes reason, doesn’t it? Argumentation, critical thinking, judgment over people’s lives and livelihoods – very serious factors at play here. And yet, wait for it….

… Researchers have conducted a significant study on 8 (Israeli) parole judges to see which factors most influence their decisions of releasing┬áor not releasing┬áconvicts early under supervision. They investigated their rulings for a period of 10 months, so over┬á1,000 rulings,┬áto check for correlation with rational factors, such as seriousness of the crime, jail term and time already spent in jail, gender, race or ethnicity of the prisoner, prisoner’s age, etc. They found NO significant correlation. The only correlation they were able to identify (and it was pretty strong) was with the time that had elapsed since the judges had last eaten!…

“The rate of positive rulings (that is rulings in favor of releasing the prisoner early) started each morning with a generous average of 65%, but rapidly and constantly decreased to zero, before the first break. Then the judges took a short 20 minutes break and returned, and up, just like that, the percentage rose back to 65%. And then decreased slowly to about 10%, just before the one-hour lunch break. And, like a miracle, after lunch the judges said yes again in 65% of the cases, but that steadily went down until the day ended and they went home.” (Radu Atanasiu, MSM Romania, course on Critical Thinking ┬á– Reason and Fair Play in Communication, Iversity, 2014).

Of course, that says nothing about how each individual judge acted, it is only an aggregated statistic. Still, it’s representative enough. And what does that tell us?

That leniency of toughness had more to do with good mood and a full stomach than with all that melange of other rational factors!…

And here’s where I think hospitality comes in. From the dawn of history, hospitality has played a major role in people’s interactions and communication. In the East, whether Eastern Europe, the Middle East, or further away, it still does – people are looking out for each other. At some level, people have always understood that you cannot make any real connection or discuss any important issues with a person before feeding them or giving them a chance to rest.

Because that is the lesson we derive from this, isn’t it? No matter how rational you think you are, you tend to be more inflexible when hungry or tired, you are still trapped in this animal body which is depleted and wants to eat or rest. Of course, that means that most of us are still on a very low spiritual level, but these are the realistic facts. So if you want someone to be favorable to your cause, if you want to get them to lean your way, feed and rest them. Don’t ask your boss for a raise when he’s on an empty stomach, rushing to a meeting or just coming out of a phone conference. Take your time, be patient, be wise, be hospitable.

Hospitality has always been a pillar of diplomacy. The Bedouin always thinks “next time I might be in his shoes” and offers his best to his guest. My very own Romanian grandma never started a serious conversation before asking what we’d like for lunch and darting to set the table. Kind and almost rational, isn’t it? ­čśë

P.S. You can have a closer look at the aforementioned study here: http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2012/09/11/3587076.htm, and here: http://www.pnas.org/content/108/17/6889

I’m off to breakfast! ­čÖé

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