Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Annoyance turns to Appreciation

It doesn't feel good to dislike somebody. Unfortunately some people really bug me. I’ve been thinking about this a little bit and have come to a few conclusions.

There is a primary effect that transpires anytime two people meet for the first time. It is during this time frame that you develop a schema in your mind as to what the other person is like. Unfortunately, this initial cognitive construct is hard to change completely; we usually make little adjustments to it as more experiences unfold. If somebody has a negative primary effect on you then that person will automatically occupy a negative position in you mind.

The next factor in this thought of mine is what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error (FAE). When measuring another's actions we, as people, tend to over-emphasize dispositional factors and under-emphasize situational factors. When somebody does something that offends me I attribute those actions to the other persons inner personality traits and judge that person as mean. Let's say this person is a man who just got fired from his job right before I met him. In this extreme example that person's reason for being grumpy and offensive towards me had no indication at all of the type of person he is normally, but I construct a negative schema of this person anyway. Consequently I dislike that person from that point on. The interesting thing is that when we assess our selves we never fall victim to this fundamental attribution error, in fact we do just the opposite and over-emphasize situational factors and put little emphasis on our disposition, "I was rude because I just lost my job."

You can quickly see how inaccurate our own perceptions of people can become. Someone who bugs me all the time may not have ever bugged me had they been in a better situation when I first met them. There's an old French proverb that I learned while studying the Hmong language which states "to know all is to forgive all." I love this idea! If I knew another person's situation like I know my own, then the situational factors predominate and forgiveness becomes easy. This brings about an idea that people are generally good, but at times do bad things due to environmental influence. Whether this idea is true or not is unimportant, believing it can help us better love others.

Another fallacy in our thinking process is the idea of a just world. This makes us think that the poor are poor for a reason and the rich are rich for a reason. It's this idea that motivates us to go to school and work hard, feeling that a just world will repay us for our efforts. While this is a comforting thought, it discounts people who have situational factors denying them opportunities to grow and progress. People that come form inner-city areas, that were born with less than attractive physical features, people with physical or mental handicaps, and hundreds of other misfortunes are at a disadvantage in this "just" world. In our little LDS community we, at times erroneously assume the rich are rich for being righteous and the poor are poor because of sin.

All it takes is a little bit of effort to get past these barriers in our thinking. Hold off judging people until you have had a few opportunities to filter out any negative situational distortions. Get to know someone better, especially those who bug you, and let your understanding of that person expand; forgiveness easily and quickly follows. As we do this those feelings of dislike will diminish, displaced by appreciation and understanding.