In order to make sense of the world, we make attributions — explanations for why things happen. Attributions get at causality, and we strive for understanding causality so our worlds don’t seem so chaotic.
The problem is that our explanations or attributions are necessarily flawed. Attributions are based on own own life experiences, and they are undoubtedly biased — whether we know (or like) it or not.
For example, I may strongly believe in personal power. So, when something bad happens to someone, I may blame that person for not making the “right” choice, therefore, leading to a bad outcome. On the other hand, if I believe that much in the world happens by chance, I may view negative events as, “Oh well. Too bad.”
We can’t help the fact that our brains are wired to draw efficient (even if flawed) conclusions about the world, but we can deeply understand that we do it. We can keep an open mind and think twice…. questioning ourselves, especially when we feel assuredly “in the right.”
Victim blaming and shaming people is an excellent example.
Imagine this: I have seen women who were abused by men and stay even when I thought they could leave. However, abuse is all they’ve known, and they don’t see leaving as a path of survival. I could blame people being abused for not being strong enough or brave enough to leave. However, I haven’t had their experiences. Why wouldn’t they just call the police? In fact, it is this type of thinking and pushing that can get women killed. I must be careful about pushing my worldview onto others without fulling understanding their situations.
This idea also extends to experiences of race. While I would strongly like to believe that I am racially aware and accepting of difference, I am forced to acknowledge that I still have biases that influence my being in the world. It is when I deny or ignore these that I am in dangerous territory. I do believe that I can support law enforcement officers AND acknowledge that race plays a role in how we treat one another. The idea that it must be one or the other is ludicrous and not based on scientific reality.
I have found myself thinking more and more about attributions as the political climate gets increasingly negative. Someone is always blaming someone else for having questionable motives. I get it. Buttons are pushed. Such is politics to stoke these fires. My job is to actually think about what is being sold to me. Be very wary of those who write with labels — forever lumping opponents into derogatory categories. Be smarter than that.
As humans we are wired to see things a certain way, but we are also evolved enough to be more than our instincts. It just takes more effort. These days, it takes a lot of effort. I am constantly questioning this myself. What does it hurt to even consider that my attributions may be wrong? I don’t think it hurts anything because thinking isn’t dangerous. Blindly following others and our own unquestioned knee jerk reactions is dangerous.
I call it enlightenment: the process of having or moving to a deeper understanding through more knowledge (Oxford Dictionary). MOMF.
Previously published on Medium.com