MAX Mindfulness: Fundamental Attribution Errors – What?!!

by Dave Wine, President & CEO

I want to move a bit from mindfulness directly, and talk about an interesting human tendency (which does take mindfulness to acknowledge).   This is what is called the Fundamental Attribution Error.  Quite the label, but boiled down it simply refers to our tendency as humans to attribute the negative or frustrating behaviors of our friends, family and colleagues to their intentions and personalities while attributing our own negative or frustrating behaviors to environmental factors.  In other words, we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and find ways to project our behavior onto other things.  But we tend to assume the worst about others and think their behavior is a major personal defect.

As an example, you might notice someone in a store yelling at their kids.  And you make a quick judgment that they are not a good parent.  And you go home and yell at your kids but say to yourself, “I’m at least doing it out of love and besides, they deserved it – the kids in the store weren’t doing anything that bad.”  Or someone makes a mistake and you think, “why can’t they ever get it right?”  Yet you make a mistake and it is due to there being so many things you are responsible for in this job/life- of course you are going to make a mistake.  I share this not to judge or condemn any of us,  but to invite each of us to recognize ways we might do this. I know I do it!  The sins of another are just ‘mistakes’ when I do them.

There is also the Reverse Fundamental Attribution Error when we assume the best about others and blame ourselves more than them for the same things.   And I’ve done this, too.  I’ve made my mistakes sins when I’ve just labeled them mistakes when others do them.   Neither of these approaches are helpful.  That’s where mindfulness comes in – to have the self-awareness and self-honesty to discover ways we are doing this and realize how alike we all are in most things and then have the grace to allow them and us to be affirmed and forgiven together for our humanness and imperfections.


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