A few months ago, I read Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. And if you have ever read anything she has written, you are probably not surprised to hear that there were many points which struck me or rang especially true. One example was her narrative about her own epiphany as she wrestled (or rumbled to use her term) with a very simple, but extremely interesting question: “do you think, in general, that people are doing the best they can?” In her case, she had just had a rather unpleasant experience with a randomly assigned hotel roommate at a speaking engagement that had left some scars and a strong conviction that NO, no they are not. After being surprised by the perspectives of a few others around her, she decided to use her platform as a sociologist to conduct interviews to determine patterns or themes in the perspective of others on the topic and her conclusions were fascinating.
Even prior to reading Brown’s insight on the topic, I was aware of my need to increase my awareness of instances in which I use what psychologists refer to as the fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error is a fancy title for our tendency to overestimate the extent to which our own or others’ personality or character traits played a role in our/their behavior and actions as opposed to the environmental or specific situational circumstances which may have also been involved. It’s what we think when we bump into someone accidently and are treated with a disproportionately mean scowl as we apologize. Generally speaking we might think that this person must be having a bad day due to something outside of this relatively innocuous experience, or we might conclude that he or she is a rude or angry person in general. Or you might become frustrated by yourself for forgetting your friend’s birthday and then chalk it up to the fact that you were out of town the week before and had forgotten to put in your calendar oryou could attribute it to your own selfishness or the fact that you are not a very good friend. It’s nearly automatic for us to make some assumption of intent one way or other, but the latter version in each scenario is decidedly more permanent, pervasive, and personal (not to mention quite often more pessimistic). Many of us, and unfortunately me, have a tendency to view the actions of others and ourselves more as a reflection of character as opposed to a reaction to a particular situation.
In Rising Strong, Brown wrote “those who said they believe that people are doing the best they can consistently qualified their answers: ‘I know it sounds naïve…’ or ‘You can’t be sure, but I think so…’ or ‘I know it sounds weird…’ They were slow to answer and seemed almost apologetic, as if they had tried to persuade themselves otherwise, but just couldn’t give up on humanity. They were also careful to explain that it didn’t mean that people can’t grow or change. Still, at any given time, they figured, people are normally doing the best they can with the tools they have. Those who believe people are not doing the best they can were unequivocal and passionate in their responses…. It was always some version of an emphatic ‘No! Absolutely not! No way!’ Unlike their ‘yes’ counterparts, about 80 percent of these respondents used themselves as an example: ‘I know I’m not doing my best, so why should I assume others are?’ or ‘I slack off all the time,’ or ‘I don’t give it 110 percent when I should.’ They judged their efforts in the same exacting manner that they judged the efforts of others. It was clearly important for the people answering ‘no’ to acknowledge this parity. I also began to see a pattern that worried me. The past research participants who answered ‘no’ were also people who struggled with perfectionism. They were quick to point out how they’re not always doing the best they could and offered examples of situations when they weren’t their perfect selves. They were as hard on others as they were on themselves. Every participant who answered ‘yes’ was in the group of people who I had identified as wholehearted – people who are willing to be vulnerable and who believe in their self-worth. They too, offered examples of situations where they made mistakes or didn’t show up as their best selves, but rather than pointing how they could and should have done better, they explained that, while falling short, their intentions were good and they were trying.”
And when I read this, I got it – falling prey to the fundamental attribution error or disbelief in the notion that people aregenerally doing their best certainly isn’t making me any happier. It actually makes me less forgiving and understanding of myself and others which is making much lesshappy. Although the difference is subtle, when I assume Jon hasn’t told me what time I should expect him to be home because he is having a busy day at work, my attitude is markedly different than when I chalk it up to him being a selfish person. Brown quoted wisdom from her husband, who carefully considered the question before responding that “all I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” In my own life, I have seen that when I do assume the best in people, it can be a powerful self-fulfilling prophecy. And even when it’s not, I am still happier when I am not busy worrying or thinking negatively about someone else which often bleeds in to the way that I think about myself. It’s another lesson in my ongoing quest to not allow “perfect to be the enemy of good.” Sigh. It’s an ongoing work in progress definitely.
At least while I work on this, I can enjoy this delicious dish – a Whole30 Lemon Caper Salmon which is full of some of my favorite ingredients. Lemon, capers, garlic, salmon, and ghee. About 10 minutes from start to finish. 5 ingredients, 5 steps. What’s not to love? This one really is inherently good – no fundamental attribution error in play here.
- Salmon Filet 4 each
- Ghee 5 TBSP
- Garlic Cloves, Minced 4 each
- Juice of 1 Lemon
- Capers 4 TBSP
- Fresh Parsley, Salt, and Pepper to Taste
- Heat 2 TBSP of ghee in a large frying pan over medium high heat until melted and then add the salmon skin side down first.
- Cook for about 4 minutes and then flip and repeat on second side, about 4 minutes again.
- Remove the salmon to a side plate and then in the same pan, add the remaining ghee, garlic, lemon juice and capers.
- Allow to cook for about 2 minutes to warm.
- Plate the salmon and then spoon the lemon ghee and caper over the top.