Casual observations on human nature

monkey think

(This post first appeared on

It’s been quite some time since I posted anything on this blog – I blame it on all Facebook! If you’re not on my friends list, do add me soon since I post alot of daily thoughts, rants and visuals there.

Just wanted to pen some thoughts as I approach the 33rd year of my life in Aug  (that’s impressive okay, 1/3 of a century), and having seen quite a fair bit of human nature. I’ve spent a long time observing and writing about people interacting with others.

And with that, I’ve made some casual observations that I’ve found to be quite true (but never fully, of course, as a caveat) in most situations. Below are results of conversations I’ve had with several friends over the past few weeks. The gang also recently visited Derek’s grave to commemorate his third anniversary to going to Heaven, so there was time for some more reflection now that we’re no longer 16-year-old kids but mostly fathers ourselves.

Feel free to disagree and comment.


There seems to be an age where nearly everyone becomes hard to teach new things or mindsets. Unless tragedy strikes.

It can be 20, 30, 40, or 60, but most of us seem to reach a stage when we resist learning new things. The culmination of knowledge and skills seems to hit a wall when people amass enough to keep repeating a certain level of success in their endeavors. It will take usually a death, a retrenchment or a calamity to wake a person up from his state of mind and re-examine the status quo. Some never encounter that situation and being to fossilize further.

There are those who insist on evolving all the time, but society can sometimes brand them as anarchists or unpredictable. The power of labels in society remains as deadly as ever.


Thinking out of the box is not as common an ability as the Gahmen tells us.

We hear it all the time – think out of the box! But here’s the problem – most people don’t even know the size of the box they are in…or that they are even in a box. An alternative solution is not thinking out of the box. A true alternative takes current conditions, smashes them against a wall, and relooks at the basic issues again from a completely different angle. Most people are content with coming up with solutions that are slightly different, not wholly different, because they fear the high risk of failure. The Matrix was a nice example put on film, but most people didn’t even understand the underlying philosophy. Personally, I believe the ability to think outside the box can be unlocked in everyone, but it is best done at a very young age.

PS: Philosophy is often seen as a dirty word, when it’s simply an exercise in thinking processes that we should all do.

PPS: Thinking out of the box does not guarantee a solution. Getting to the root of the problem gets better ROI.


When someone tells you that no one is indispensible, that’s usually because he believes he’s dispensable himself. He becomes “everyone”.

There are pistons in every engine and some are obviously better than others. Take away the critical pistons and you’ll see the engine stop working after a while. Groups or companies which subscribe to that attitude that good people are easily replaced will always be staffed by mediocre folks and often run by mediocre bosses. Unless of course, it’s boss wants to have only mediocre people under him for easier command and control.

That said, it’s important for people to work in mediocre companies or teams at least once in their lives – if you don’t know the benchmark for mediocrity, you won’t know what to aspire to. Or remain as.


The people who play dirty politics (in school, work or elsewhere) are usually people who are not terribly skilled or talented, but need to make up for their incompetencies somewhere else.

This is not to say talented people can’t pay dirty too, but talented and inspired people usually spend their time focusing on creating good work and not worrying about what people think about them. Unfortunately, the people who spend alot of time worrying about other people get ahead because they tend to invest more time in relationships (or shudder, backstabbing) rather than pure work in itself. That’s why I’ve found many incredibly talented people shunted away to live life in dejection and they meekly accept this as their fate. Common scenario in the many industries.


Many people are fixated on fulfilling a certain ideal existence. Which remains ideal unless divine intervention happens.

There’s nothing wrong with this you know. Just that life in itself is so unpredictable, can we really work towards a future that we are sure will happen? Say a guy wants to work to become CEO…and he drops dead the day before he does it. Does that mean his life’s work to become CEO is now meaningless? Not really, but if he had ignored everything else to reach his goal, then maybe his life wasn’t that fun at all.

As a practicing believer in Christ, I believe utterly in God’s will and that I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. Being a journalist reinforced that because every day and every story was so incredibly different! How can I know what I will be in even a year’s time?

That confounds certain people because I often talk like I’m so sure what I want.

Well, what I only want is to be satisfied with my work and be happy in my life, so I work at those two things which are not too specific and actually quite achievable. That way, I don’t think I’ll set myself up for any disappointment in the long term.


Power is fluid. Power does not remain still. Everyone has power to play with.

This I learnt from Foucault. Power in its many forms (literary, human, emotional, political etc) ebbs and flows today. One day, you can have a huge and invincible army under you. Tomorrow, your best generals either die in battle or stage a mutiny. Or make you Emperor of the Universe. What do you do about it? What can you do about it?

In our daily lives, our interactions with people ebb and flow in the same way too, for better or worse. The problem here is most people don’t see human relationships as a network of power flowing through the system – but a series of nametags stuck on a magnetic board : they assume they are either weak or powerful based on the titles given to them. In society, people take up the roles they assume they’re born into, hence a lifetime of inertia from thereon.

But the weakest member of the system can disrupt the flow by simply refusing to work – eg. the cleaning lady in the office who says she’s had it and is not removing any rubbish anymore. Or the clerk who runs away with money by using shady accounting moves. How does the most ambitious member of the system keep power flowing towards him, and not away from him? Or more positively, how does one keep power flowing around him in a “recyclable” manner to achieve the desired outcomes?

By the way, this also reminds me of the character Tom Bombadil in The Lord Of The Rings. This guy was completely unaffected by the One Ring of Sauron, but didn’t bother to do anything about the global crisis in the storyline. Such people do exist – utter power in their hands, but sheer indifference to the external environment, preferring to lead their own contented lives on their own terms.

Not a bad position to be in, and no, he wasn’t in the movies because he would have thrown the script completely off-course.

PS: You can substitute the word “power” with “love”, “respect”, “influence” and so on. Same principle applies.

9 Replies to “Casual observations on human nature”

  1. Hmmm. What have I learned from human nature?

    Well, actually a quote that’s from a business book.

    “Show me how people are paid and I will show you how they behave”.

    It’s about human motivation. Understanding the motivation behind people provides a very good indication of how that person will behave.

    So far, it has serve me very well, and I found it to apply most of the time.

  2. Hee i know this is completely irrelevant to your main point, but the geek in me can’t resist pointing out the error of an example you used.

    Tom Bombadil is probably THE enigma of LotR. But i think Tolkien did clarify somewhere in his letters that Tom Bombadil only had absolute power in his kingdom in the Old Forest and the areas around. While he had that power, nothing else had any power over him, hence the immunity to the One Ring. It doesn’t mean that he had the power to fight Sauron openly.

    Sorry i know i’m being disagreeable heh.

  3. For some strange reason, this post about human nature/behaviour reminded me of one of your previous posts about how an elderly man shot his dying wife and waited in the room until the cops arrived to take him away. I still have that image (or what that image would look like to me) seared in my mind. I think desperation is a very powerful thing.

  4. Did I post such a story, Gary? Man, my memory is crap…that’s why I have a blog to pen down my thoughts before I forget them the next hour.

  5. Yes yes, you did! Gosh, I wish I knew how to search your blog! It’s a story of an elderly Italian couple. The wife was lying in hospital, dying, and he pulled a gun and shot his wife. He then laid the gun down on the dresser table and waited for the cops to arrive. Something like that. I think I shed a tear after reading that story, and your analysis of it was equally poignant. Send me the link if you manage to find it on your blog!

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