So there you were, living your life, when someone went and did something you didn’t like. Let’s call this someone Bill. Bill has done something you don’t approve of. It could be a small something or a large something. Either way, you don’t think you would have ever done what Bill did, and that makes his behavior appalling. Frustrating. Terrible!
Then you say:
“Well, if I were him, I would have never done that.”
Is this true though? Would you have done something different if you were in Bill’s shoes? Let’s examine this more closely…
- If you were Bill you’d have his genetics
- If you were Bill, you’d also have his experiences
That means that you’re genetics and experiences wouldn’t be calling the shots. Bill’s would be. And since it was the lifelong interaction of Bill’s genetics and experiences that resulted in his actions, you would have done the exact same thing Bill did.
After all, you would be Bill!
Take a moment and reflect on what this means. The capacity you have to make “better” choices than Bill is something that you have developed over your life. They are a result of your genes interacting with your environment. Bill, because of his genes and environment — i.e. what makes Bill who he is — does not have the same capacity. His choices are the “best” in his mind…and if you were Bill, you’d feel exactly the same way.
It turns out, after all, that you would have done exactly what Bill did if you were Bill!
The effectiveness of this little mental reminder isn’t so much to remind yourself that Bill isn’t culpable or “wrong,” but that conflict resolution has a lot more to do with subjective understanding than objective correctness; It can be invaluable to understand why someone is doing something instead of merely berating them for making a mistake. After all, we all make plenty of mistakes, and that’s not a bad thing.
So again, instead of falling into the trap of this type of Fundamental Attribution Error, pause and remind yourself that you literally
- Wouldn’t have the perspective or clarity you are fortunate enough to have if you really were someone else and
- Would have made the exact same decision or mistake someone else made if you were him as well.
Try it next time someone does something that irks you or you can’t imagine how someone else could have done that to you. Simply ask yourself, “If I were him, would have I done that?” Because the answer is a resounding yes.