One of the drills I used to suggest for rookies (it's in the Drills manual) is the articulation exercise. Basically, most of our decisions are faster than conscious though. In "Blink," Gladwell described several studies that show that decisions are routinely made before the entire question is even heard. Most of our mental power doesn't go to making decisions. It goes to rationalizing those decisions.
Kris brought out that people also feel a need to rationalize who they are. We rationalize our emotional decisions. 'I feel' or 'I like' aren't enough. We want a reason, and that leads to an ugly dynamic.
I like orange ice cream better than rocky road. I just do. But there is a human tendency to want more. If I like something better, it must be better. If it is better and I see it and you don't, you must be wrong, stupid or evil...
As long as our reasons are enough, the slippery slope doesn't really exist. I like things, you like other things. At the most rational, if I like Islay scotches and you like Highlands, we don't have to share. More for me. Yay. The extrapolation, the rationalizations and the justifications are where people let themselves do truly hideous things.
Our ugliness rarely comes from who we are, maybe, it comes from the story we tell about why. Killing people may or may not be wrong in a given circumstances... but the rationalizations, the ideology that justifies it are where genocide comes in. Where things turn from bad to evil.
Justifications can present laziness as idealism. And that makes it attractive. Or fear as solidarity. That makes it good. So say we all. Hmmmmm.
The level of self-analysis critical to the articulation exercise stops there. How many people, if any, could go deeper? Could peel away the justifications and bullshit rationalizations and see who they truly are? Admit why they really do what they do?
Get this-- I don't think it would be bad. I don't think most people have dark reasons for what they do. I think the truth would be simple, and humans are far more afraid of being simple than being dark. There is more romance and a better story in dark and hidden meanings. I think deep down, most of us are about as complicated as a relatively smart turtle.
Teja's contribution from the other side: Have you noticed that if someone is the victim in an abuse cycle, they never describe what happened as an assault or an attack? Is that why most don't really defend themselves? But if you try to intervene, try to help, THAT is seen as an attack and the defense mechanisms go wild.
Hmmmm. Assault with black eyes and broken ribs is just a misunderstanding, a loss of control...
But asking about it is treated as a threat.
That's some pretty intense mental gymnastics. Lot's of roots of behavior lie in the justifications, the stories we tell ourselves and others.
Just a half-formed thought spawned by good talks with good friends.