My dad was a police sergeant.

One of the most fascinating things he told me was the main way they caught criminals.

In those days the major crime was robbery.

Bank robbery, mail van robbery, post offices, safes, that sort of thing.

They’d do the job, scarper, then share out the proceeds later.

Dad said they didn’t usually catch the criminals through first-rate detection or excellent police work.

They usually caught them because the wife of one of the gang informed on everyone.

I said that didn’t make sense.

Why would anyone in their right mind do that?

Dad said what would happen is that for some reason one of the gang would get a larger share than others.

Maybe they were the leader, or the brains, or the muscle.

Either way, the wife whose husband got more would rub it in.

She’d show off about how much more her husband got.

This always went down badly with at least one other wife.

Who was upset her husband got less, which meant she got less, which meant they were considered less important.

And that meant a loss of face.

And that meant emotions took over from common sense.

She wasn’t thinking rationally anymore.

Now she was just determined to get even with the other wife.

“If you think you can treat me like that I’ll show you, I’ll shop the whole bloody lot. That way no one gets anything. Let’s see you laugh that off you cow.”

And, in a fit of anger, she’d go into the local nick and tell the coppers the whole thing.

In her rage, probably expecting the coppers to be sympathetic.

Expecting preferential treatment for her husband.

Not thinking any further than getting even.

When we’re in our rational minds that seems stupid of course.

If you shop the whole gang everyone suffers, including your own husband.

But the problem is, when your emotions take over you’re not in your rational mind.

It isn’t about what makes sense, it’s about what satisfies your anger.

That’s one lesson we all should learn, but never do.

Our worst decisions are the emotional ones, the ones that feel good the second they’re made.

Then feel terrible as soon as the consequences start to kick in.

Decisions made with the gut not the head.

Decisions that cost us a raise, or a job, or a marriage.

Decisions that felt totally justified at the time.

Where we just couldn’t help ourselves.

As Jonathan Haidt says, think of a man sat on an elephant’s back.

The man is Reason the elephant is Emotion.

We like to believe that the man is the driver, rationally dictating where the elephant goes.

But actually the elephant goes wherever it wants.

And the man sits on its back, helpless, post-rationalising the elephant’s choices.

Trying to make it look like he’s in charge.

The philosopher Hume said it more pithily, 300 years earlier.


“Reason is the slave of the passions”.