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Be careful of how you judge others, and yourself
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD posted:
I recently read a the following thought-provoking letter published in the August issue of the magazine The Sun:

The author (anonymous) shared her very personal experience as a teacher — and in the end, a learner. Among the students in her math class was a boy who never brought his assignments or book to class, had a "dagger stare" and muttered angry words under his breath. She "labeled him an 'S&F' (sit and fail) student." After learning about a few recent tragedies in his life, she realized, "And I thought he was the one not paying attention."

Psychologists describe a phenomenon called fundamental attribution error, which explains her inclination to initially judge this boy negatively based on his behaviors. Stated simply, when observing the behavior of others, most people tend to rely too much on personality-based explanations and rely too little on situational explanations.

This dynamic is complicated by the fact that people are much more inclined to blame their own problems on the situation than on themselves.

Can you relate? Are you aware of times when you were deceived by the fundamental attribution error? Are there times when you caught yourself doing it, but then were able to see the world through the other person's eyes? Or, have there been times when you have caught yourself blaming your actions on a situation — and avoiding taking personal responsibility for them? And, finally, have you benefited from your awareness?

Read in more detail about this topic in my post on The Art of Relationships blog.
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cjh1203 responded:
I just encountered a perfect example of this last week. I had to go to an auto-parts store to get new windshield wiper blades. The man who waited on me was probably in his mid-60s, very polite and helpful. I assumed he was working there because he had always had that kind of job -- fairly low-paying -- and couldn't afford to retire.

In talking to him, though, I learned that he had retired from a very important position in Washington, DC and that he and his wife have a vacation home in the mountains of North Carolina as well as their home here (Florida). Knowing all that, I would guess that he was working at the auto-parts store because he enjoys working and meeting people, and not because he needs the money.

That was one more reminder that I do sometimes tend to make unfair assumptions about people based on nothing more than what I see at the time. It's something I've been trying to work on for a long time, but I find myself still doing it occasionally.
 
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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD replied to cjh1203's response:
That is a perfect example. And, it's something we all do. I think it's great that you've been working on it. It's one of those things that I don't think is ever accomplished, but is rather always a work in progress.


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