Fundamental Attribution Error

Several years ago, I learned a concept that has helped me to see the world a little more clearly.  We tend to look at situations through the filter of our own backgrounds, biases, and perceptions.  This idea will help you understand the ‘reality’ of a situation, and will hopefully help tone down some of the negative emotions you may be experiencing.

The concept is called the “Fundamental Attribution Error.”  These are big, technical sounding words.  But it’s a pretty easy concept to understand.  I’d like to teach it to you, as it may help you as it has helped me.

Here’s an easy way to look at it:

People tend to falsely attribute the negative behaviors of others to their character, (Predisposed to being bad), while they attribute their own negative behaviors to their environment  (It’s the situation’s fault).

An example we can all relate to: 

Have you ever been cut off in traffic?  We all have.  Let’s say a person cuts in front of you too quickly or too close while in heavy traffic.   What’s your first thought?

“You IDIOT!!!  Who taught you to drive—Your GRANDMOTHER?   *^!!!!*@#*!!!#???”

So, in our minds, they cut us off and they’re idiots…

Now lets say you personally cut someone off (like I did this morning on the way home from the park.)  Our thought:

“Sorry! Didn’t see you back there…”

So in this case, it’s just an accident—we certainly didn’t mean to cut them off.  (It wasn’t me… I didn’t see you…)

Happens all the time.

So how can we apply this to our worlds—today?

I’m sure you’ve noticed that there is a lot of bickering going on back and forth between the two major political parties.  I’ve been reading some pretty nasty, one-sided comments on Facebook and Twitter.  And depending on which channel you watch, the “other side” is always dead wrong.


I will not get into politics on this blog, ever.  That’s not what this is about.  I would like to suggest this, though.  Could it be that both parties are right?  Could it be that both parties see things from their particular perspective as being “right” (and I don’t mean right from a political perspective).

It seems that most of the politicians have made up their minds that the “other” party is “wrong.”  This is the Fundamental Attribution Error seen on a national scale.

I’d like to suggest this.  Why not look at both sides?  Why not tone down the rhetoric a little in the comments that are made about the party you’re not affiliated with.  Why not quit the all-or-nothing thinking.

In reality, I believe that both parties love our country.  And I believe that both parties want our country to be successful.  They just have different ways of looking at it.  They both have valid points and they both have erroneous thinking.

I think a bigger problem than Washington is this—it’s trickling down to the masses.

Quite frankly, I’ve seen some comments that I would have to say were downright hateful, posted on the Internet recently.  I don’t see these as being mere statements—far from it. They are attacks against their fellow countrymen—as if they are ‘predisposed to being bad.’

Recently, I met a lady at a hotel, who was setting up the room I was speaking in.  She was putting pitchers of water on the tables.  I was setting up some equipment.  I was trying to make a little small talk with her to pass the time.

She asked me where I was from.  (I get that a lot with my accent.)  I told her Atlanta, GA.  Then she said, “Oh, you’re one of those ‘red state’ people.  You’re what’s wrong with this country.”  She wouldn’t speak to me after finding out I was from Georgia.  (I guess I’m predisposed to being bad, because of where I live.)

I was speechless!  I’m a professional speaker, so that’s pretty hard to do.  But she did it.

Usually, this kind of stupidity would make me angry.  But in this case, it just made me sad.  Sure, I could complain to the hotel management about their staff’s lack of tact, but that wouldn’t fix the problem.  It’s deeper than that.  You can’t be ‘reprimanded’ into seeing reality.

Here’s an analogy to close with.

America’s emblem is the eagle.  They are a powerful, majestic bird.  I have seen them in the wild, and the sight is nothing short of awe-inspiring.  Actually, I watched one once while canoeing, and it brought tears to my eyes.  It moved me.  I love this country, and it epitomized everything great about our land.

When you look at an eagle, you will notice that it has two wings.  There is a left-wing, and there is a right-wing.  They provide balance.  They generate power.  They give the eagle the ability to soar.

Thank God it has two wings!  Without both, the eagle would spin out of control, and fall back to earth.

It’s the same with our country.  I hope you get the point!

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