The kids were with their grandparents for a few days. Even though I’ve been a stay-at-home mum for ten years, when they’re gone I easily slip back into super-efficient, work-a-lot-Vet mode.
I’d come back from a walk around the river with my friend Sarah, grabbed an apple and sat down to smash out a few emails before getting ready for work. My brain works best first thing in the morning, and I had a few important things to send.
It should have been quiet, sans kids, but my foster dog Dozer was barking up a storm in the backyard.
I sent Leigh a text: did you feed the dog?
Yup, he replied. And the fish.
Dumb old dog had forgotten.
I tried to block out the barking and finish the email.
Eventually I got up and growled at him, “cut it out, ya dopey bugger. You’ve had breakfast.”
He thumped his tail a few times and flopped down on the concrete.
It was in the shower, mid hair-wash, that I realised my mistake.
I’d met Sarah at the river. We’d gone for a walk but when I had hopped in my car to come home, it didn’t start. Sarah had dropped me home.
I’d come inside and gone straight to my computer.
The dog is old, but he isn’t dumb or dopey. He had not recognised the sound of the car that had pulled up in the driveway. The blinds were closed when I came inside and he hadn’t seen me. The frantic barking was all about Doze wanting to protect his home, and not the whinging of an old dude who’d forgotten he’d been fed. When he saw me, he relaxed because he was assured it was me inside, and not some random stranger.
People make this kind of mistake all the time. When we see someone doing something negative, we tend to think it relates to their personality rather than the situation the person might be in. It’s called The Fundamental Attribution Error.
For example, imagine you’re approaching a set of traffic lights and the light turns orange. You slow down to stop but the car speeding up behind you suddenly switches to the empty lane beside you and flies right through the red light.
In that scenario, I am most likely to think that the driver of the vehicle is careless and irresponsible, and attribute their bad driving to their poor character. Would you assume that too? The truth could be that they never normally speed and run red lights, but their wife has gone into labour and they are rushing to be by her side, or that they had a bad burrito and they’re close to home, but moments away from ruining their best pants.
What’s the solution to this inclination of ours?
Saint Francis prayed, “we must seek to understand more than to be understood.”
We can have better relationships with our work colleagues, our families and even our dog when we realise that we might be making wrong assumptions about what they are thinking, and why they are acting the way they are.
Building trust and vulnerability helps to break down these wrong assumptions. Making time to talk about what’s going on in each other’s lives helps, as does just spending time hanging out and building a friendship.
When my friend and colleague Sarah blows past me at work without saying hello, my assumption is that Sarah is late to a meeting, or has something serious on her mind and didn’t even register me being there. It’s easy to assume the best of Sarah because I spend lots of time with her, we are vulnerable with each other- I know her heart and know that she loves me. I also know that I can have a bad day around Sarah without her thinking that I’m a total jerk. We have a lot of grace for each other.
It’s easy to assume the best of people we love and trust, but it’s also easy to assume the worst about people we don’t really know… or don’t really like.
Is there someone you need to spend time with, to build up trust and learn how to see the best in them?
(And, are some people actually just jerks?)