To Err is Human

Poor Wayfaring Man

There are a lot of Mormons and former Mormons who are annoyed and upset by the way the leaders of the LDS Church treat Church members, and the way Church members treat each other. It’s easy to see a leader disrespecting, belittling, or otherwise bullying somebody (or a group of people) and condemn him as an evil, arrogant, selfish bastard. Likewise, it’s easy to see a member snubbing, gossiping, or imposing social burdens on somebody and judge him or her to be self-centered, unscrupulous, or stupid. I know I’ve done that.

I have been wondering recently, however, if jumping to that conclusion about people in the Church is really warranted. Could I be exhibiting an error in judgment? Some bias buried in my all-too-human psyche? I think it’s possible.

Okay, probable.

As humans, we make judgments about other people. But we know that we shouldn’t judge people unless we’ve “walked a mile in their shoes.” In other words, it’s important to thoroughly understand their point of view. But what happens when we don’t know enough about the other person to truly comprehend his or her point of view? Well, in order to make our judgment, we have to make assumptions. One assumption that Americans (and other western cultures that cherish individualism) often make is that the other person’s behavior has more to do with the other person’s innate character than any outside influences that may exist.

Thus, if a person is fat, it is probably because of slothfulness or gluttony and not a lack of healthy food options or genetics. If a person is poor, it is probably because of stupidity or laziness, not bad luck or hardship. If a person is a thief, it is probably because of selfishness, not desperation. If a person is an LDS bishop threatening a heretic with Church discipline, it is because of arrogance, not CHI requirements.

Interestingly, when evaluating themselves, people make sure to give full weight to the outside circumstances that influence their own behavior. Obviously, then, most people would acknowledge that environmental factors affect behavior, and that they can limit a person’s options in significant ways. Unfortunately, outsiders can’t always see those limitations, and they make unflattering assumptions about the things they can see.

So, I am acknowledging this phenomenon (which is called fundamental attribution error) as it relates to me and my own perspective. It has affected, and continues to affect, my judgments about the motivations behind the behavior and life circumstances of other people. I’m not saying that innate character traits don’t also have a significant effect on behavior, I’m only saying that it is tremendously difficult (and often impossible) so sort out which of the two is at play in a given instance. I am trying to adjust my assumptions accordingly.

(By the way, because LDS Church leaders and members are also human, fundamental attribution error causes them to regularly misjudge the motivations and personal character of apostates and heretics like myself. The Gift of the Holy Ghost does not make them immune. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a person who believes him or herself to be immune from these kinds of errors will probably suffer through a lifetime of misunderstandings and bad interpersonal relationships.)



2 Responses to “To Err is Human”

Leave a Reply