Richard Stride Commentary: We’re All More Than The Worst Thing We’ve Ever Done
By Richard Stride
We are more.
I found this saying by Brian Stevenson, Equal Justice Project, in his book “Just Mercy” (there is also a movie of the same name starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx). He states that “each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done. … We are all involved when we allow others to be abused. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. … I necessarily believe that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and perhaps we all need an unmerited measure of grace.
We are more than the worst thing we have ever done. That’s a good thing, don’t you agree?
Others define us by what we do, and we in turn define others by what they do.
The things we do are not us, at least not entirely. We may take action because we are going through a mental health crisis or out of desperation, or simply because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Dr Albert Ellis, father of rational emotive behavior therapy, said: “Defining others, or ourselves for that matter, for one behavior out of the thousands of behaviors we can engage in over a lifetime is ridiculous. “
Why does this happen?
In social psychology, we call this the “fundamental attribution error.”
What is the fundamental attribution error? It refers to our tendency to attribute what others do – behaviors, deeds – to their character or personality flaws while attributing our own behaviors to forces beyond our control.
Another way of saying this is that we give ourselves a break, but we don’t do the same for others. We hold others accountable for what they do, but we don’t hold ourselves accountable.
This is called an “error” because we do not take into account the situation or circumstances in which that person may have found themselves. Maybe they had no choice but to commit the deed. Maybe it was a choice between two evils, and they chose the lesser evil of the two.
The fundamental attribution error exists because it is how we perceive our world. Because you and I, when it comes to our own actions, have insight into our own character, the incentives and circumstantial factors that affect us on a daily basis – but we rarely know what’s going on with anyone else.
So what do we do when it comes to others? We literally make things up, based on limited knowledge of the person or the circumstances.
Fundamental attribution error is similar to what social psychologists call “confirmation bias.” In fact, the two often go hand in hand. In confirmation bias, we tend to seek out, explain, and memorize information in a way that confirms our long-held belief. In doing so, we select information that supports our view and ignore information contrary to that belief.
So the next time you’re tempted to judge someone, ask yourself: Do I really know the reason why this person is acting this way? The answer is that you probably don’t. Because we don’t know why other people act or do what they do, we shouldn’t judge them, should we? Right!
Brain Stevenson is right. “We all need a measure of undeserved grace.”
Give grace to others. Grace simply means making a conscious choice to be courteous and nonjudgmental. Here is a truism: the more grace you give, the more you will receive in return.
Because you and I “are more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be contacted at [email protected]