“I’m grouchy because I’m tired, but he’s grouchy because he’s a good-for-nothing scoundrel who can’t control his temper.”
The fundamental attribution error is a well-documented psychological quirk: we tend to blame others’ bad behavior on their basic character while blaming ours on our circumstances.
The classic example is driving behavior. When we cut someone off in traffic, we recognize we’re behaving poorly. But we’re late for an appointment—what choice do we have? When someone cuts us off, though, we assume they’re just a bad driver (at best). It doesn’t occur to us that they may have a good reason for driving like a 16-year-old on her third Red Bull.
The truth is, circumstances go a long way—some say all the way—toward determining how we’ll behave in a given situation. Pushing back against the fundamental attribution error is freeing and makes life a little less stressful.
The truth is, most people are trying their best most of the time.