Fundamental Attribution Error

Last night I sent out a tweet that was not exactly well crafted or considered so I wanted to take a moment to elaborate on my thoughts and failure to communicate those thoughts. This isn’t the first time that I’ve written a blog to clarify a tweet and it likely won’t be the last.

Humans have evolved to think and act quickly for self preservation. When we were roaming the savanna in Africa the people who could size up a situation quickly and react appropriately ate dinner. Those who could not were eaten for dinner. Our brains have evolved to take a lot of shortcuts when they evaluate a situation, that’s how we survived. These shortcuts are referred to as heuristics and biases, and there are a lot of them.

The one that got me last night is referred to as the Fundamental Attribution Error and it’s a doozy. Simply stated it says that when I look at my own actions (especially failures) I blame it on circumstance, “I ate all the chocolate it it’s ok because I I was hungry and depressed.” But when I assess another person’s actions I blame their character, not the situation, “He ate ALL the chocolate? What a selfish pig.” We judge and we generalize and it’s an old, shitty habit. The stronger among us can override these judgements, clearly I have not mastered this talent.

The immediacy of Twitter and my misguided need to chime in quickly on stuff that’s important to me makes things worse.

Well that was rude.

Cheryl isn’t an evil person, despite how my tweet comes across. Cheryl has been deeply involved in our community for many years and continues to be a force for good in many ways. London needs another 200 people who give as generously as Cheryl.

Where we disagree deeply is who we choose to support in the political arena. I want big-picture, thoughtful, visionary leaders who will bring us together and champion our city wherever they travel. Cheryl tends to back conservative candidates, more focused on the immediate future rather than the next fifty years. I tend to relate more with millennials and Cheryl with boomers. Whether by design, tradition or candidate choice, the campaigns that Cheryl has been involved with have been divisive and combative. That’s a kind of politics that I don’t want in this city.

Am I free of guilt in this regard? Nope, not even close. I try to stay above it but I jump back in to the mud pit all the time. Cheryl isn’t a bad person and I don’t think I am either but we can both do better. If we’re going to move forward without tearing each other down maybe we all need to agree to live by better rules of engagement.

It might be a pipe-dream but I believe politics can be better and that we can rise above our primal, tribalistic nature to build a better society and a better world. I’ll try to be that change, but I’m going to fail a lot on the way.

When I fail please don’t think of me as a bad person, just human.