Thursday, September 02, 2010

Why We Think The Worst...

This is going to be chock full o' glowing generalities.  Sorry, no answers, I am not wired that way.  But hopefully in fleshing out the questions, we may be able to gain some insight.

One of the things that Martin Luther said in the Small Catechism is "We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything."  (Response to the Eighth Commandment.)  I think he had a good point.  Why do we seem to assume the worst of people?  Why do we spread our negative theories about people?

I think some of it is survival value.  Let's face it, it is better to be afraid of a stick than to go up and pet a Rattlesnake.  It is safer to have a fear of heights than to fall off a cliff.  People who are not cautious tend to not add to the gene pool.  So avoiding danger has survival value.  Also, letting others know about things that are dangerous helps them to survive.

But this gets bollixed (don't you just love that word!) up when we are dealing with people.  People are more than just stimulus/response or danger/no danger.  People are a whole mix of things.  People can be simultaneously helpful and hurtful.  People can do much to help us, but people can supremely hurt us.  And those who can help us the most, are also the ones who can hurt us the most.  So I guess by presenting people and their actions in a bad light, we are protecting ourselves from getting hurt.  Unfortunately, we are also making it difficult to get the help and support we need.

It also becomes a circle.  We frame someones actions as hostile and act coolly toward the person; the person feels the coldness and instinctively backs away; we now have "proof" that the person is "hostile" and feel that our thoughts have been justified.

Another thing that factors into all of this is what is known as the Fundamental Attribution Error.  The quick definition I give for this is, "I am angry, You are an idiot," or "I am overworked, You are an idiot."  We see the things we do as being attributed to situations in our life such as being overworked or being confused.  But when it comes to other people, we see the problem as being a character flaw.  And it is easier to get angry with and feel superior to a character flaw.  However, it does a disservice to the other person.

I really try to not just assume the other person is an idiot.  But it does happen.  the Fundamental Attribution Error makes it easier to quickly assess a situation, but it doesn't always make it easier to resolve the situation.  In fact, it can cause walls to be erected that need never be there.

The problem then becomes:  How do we stop assuming the worst of people and how do we help others from assuming the worst of each other?  I would hope in a Christian setting that would not be a problem, but it often is worse in our churches.

More questions than answers. 

I usually don't beg for comments, but please!  If you have a though, leave a comment!  Thanks!


Cubby said...

"It also becomes a circle. We frame someones actions as hostile and act coolly toward the person; the person feels the coldness and instinctively backs away; we now have "proof" that the person is "hostile" and feel that our thoughts have been justified."

A lot of people fall into this trap, including myself. Other bloggers do to. This is a MUST READ --

You comments about idiots relate to me the most because I am one. An idiot. An unsophisticated cad. I try hard to hide it, doing everything in my power to convince people otherwise, but eventually the truth is revealed. If people assume from the onset that I am an idiot and don't even give me the chance to pretend I'm not, then I'm totally doomed. What can be done?

suz said...

Sounds to me like just another way to put people in the 'them' category. If they make the effort to prove themselves 'us'-worthy (I love making up words!) we may decide to consider the whole person. If not, 'they' are idiots, inferior to 'us.' In the modern world, I think distraction is an aggravating factor. 'We' are just so busy, and overwhelmed with stimuli, that we don't have the time or inclination to find out if a 'them' is really an 'us' under the surface. And if our own state of mind is currently negative, we're likely to project that negativity onto THEM. It's one of the downsides of a large, integrated (no, I don't mean race or culture) society, as opposed to a small, isolated one. We tolerate all kinds of idiocy in people close to us, BECAUSE we know them so well, and they are part of 'us.' Wouldn't it be great if we all chose LOGICAL reasons to delineate 'us' and 'them,' instead of whatever emotional whim is handy? Oh God, I'm rambling again! You just HAD to ask, didn't you?

Hugs to you...

Ur-spo said...

I always try to leave a comment whenever I read a blog.

Assuming the worst of another I daresay is in our genetics.

You may like this -

Lemuel said...

As we both (and others know) you are correct in your assessment that this issue is worse in congregations than it is among "the children of this world" and it should never be.
How do we stop it? I do not have the instant cure all pill. I do not think we can stop in others, we can only curb it in ourselves and attempt to live in such a way that others will see that such a way is better.
I think we curb it in ourselves when we are a) finally honest with ourselves (see ourselves warts and all) and b) truly understand the wonder of Grace (that we and all people are accepted [warts and all] by a loving God). My take is that the issue is worse in congregations because despite the rhetoric we never really get to point "b". We may get to point "a" but in order to compensate for what we see, we've got to declare all others as idiots instead of see ourselves and others as the "miracles of Grace" that we are.

Ur-spo said...

It is Saturday AM - I can't seem to leave comments on your newest entries !