Use Solomon’s Paradox to Make Better Life Decisions

The second king of Israel, Solomon, is sometimes referred to as “the wisest man who ever lived.” Those who turned to him for advice came away with perfect answers to even the most sensitive issues, even if he had to threaten to cut a child in half . But Solomon’s own life was a shitty show. He had hundreds of wives and concubines (which sounds sexy at first, but imagine trying to deal with so much polyamory or having hundreds of people tell you to take out the trash). He succumbed to his basest desires, worshiped false idols, although he himself talked with God, and in general started everything so strongly that it led to the fall of his entire people. In other words, Solomon could give advice to everyone but himself.

What is Solomon’s Paradox?

Our ability to reason about the lives and problems of other people, while not being able to do it for ourselves, has been called Solomon’s paradox, and this phenomenon is widely studied by sociologists. Research supports this idea: we do understand and solve other people’s problems better than we do our own. We can take a look at someone in a toxic relationship and see that they would be better off if they left and make a realistic plan for their graceful exit. We yell at horror movie characters for splitting up instead of sticking together. We can imagine what a person’s life should be like and the steps that need to be taken to achieve it.

But when it comes to our own lives, things get more complicated. We stay in dead-end jobs, make stupid financial decisions, and stay in dead-end relationships to the bitter end. If we were characters in a horror movie, we would scream ourselves hoarse. But, fortunately, I know exactly how to get out of this existential quest room. I can’t tell myself how to avoid it, but it’s a paradox.

Start by separating you from yourself

Research by Igor Grossmann and Ethan Cross clearly lays out a possible solution to Solomon’s paradox: go beyond yourself. Subjects who were instructed to “self-distancing” rather than “dive into themselves” saw that the asymmetry typical of Solomon’s paradox had almost disappeared, so this is not an inevitable trap (at least within the framework of this sociological experiment). as long as you can see yourself in third person instead of first person. This, of course, is not a simple matter. It reminds me of a barber trying to cut his own hair, but there are techniques you can try to get a little closer to going beyond yourself.

Talk to yourself about yourself

There are many “tricks” or techniques you can use to give yourself the illusion of distance and the more objective wisdom that can bring. Some recommend talking to yourself . Wait for everyone to leave the house, look at yourself in the mirror and discuss your problems. Or, more realistically, imagine yourself in a therapist’s office with an ear to a sympathetic bartender, or in the elaborate throne room of King Solomon himself, but try not to “role” yourself in this scenario. Try thinking like a listener rather than a speaker, and imagine how your problems would sound to a wiser person. Do not attach any emotion to your descriptions – here we are only looking for solutions, not emotional expression. Then imagine what that other person would advise you to do.

Will talking to the mirror help come up with a plan worthy of Solomon? Probably no. But I suspect you will at least have something new to think about.

Yes, I’m going to suggest “logging”

Another tool of personal Solomonic wisdom is journaling. Write, but only the facts. Remember, you are not trying to entertain anyone else, no one will be reading this but you from the future, so just keep an accurate record of your experience. Then leave for a few weeks. When your diary settles down, clear your mind of distractions and read it as if you were reading a novel written in the first person. Ask yourself what you would advise the main character to do. It can even help you see things from a third person perspective, using a text-to-speech program to tell you about your experience.

Use the “strangers on the train” approach

This technique is not backed by science and is a terrible idea, but consider the “strangers on a train” approach – it’s the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that a king “just cut a baby in half” might have liked Solomon. . In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 thriller Strangers on a Train , two people who do not know each other agree to commit the murder of the other so that each has an alibi. I am not suggesting murder, but I am suggesting that you hand over your life decisions to a friend or stranger (it wouldn’t work if it was someone you were close to) and that you do the same for them. In this way, each of you would be able to make rational, intelligent decisions, free from the subjective tangle of emotions and traumas that usually guide our decisions.

“This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of!” You might think, and you are right. This is a ridiculous scenario that can lead to any number of bad outcomes, plus the chances of finding someone else who goes along with this slacker scheme is extremely slim. But I mentioned it so you can imagine what a thoughtful stranger might have to say about your problems, and imagine how much better you would be if you really followed their suggestions. If you were to write to this hypothetical stranger on the train a brief description of your dilemma, such as “Should I go to the gym or watch three more episodes of Unsolved Mysteries, I think you know what your answer would be.” d get. So go with it. I bet it will trump what you were doing.


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