In my last post, I talked about how it is ok to not be ok and the idea that we are all going through something whether others know about it or not. Not only is this important to acknowledge about your own life, but also about the lives of others as well. In psychology, there is something called attribution bias. It is basically the idea that when others fail, we blame them personally for their failures. But, when we fail, we attribute our failures to others, the environment, or any external factor we can think of. In other words, we fault others for their mistakes, but come up with other reasons than our own shortcomings for ourselves.
The problem is, life is not that black and white! When we fail an exam, the difficulty of the test or the lack of air conditioning in the room may have impacted our score. But, so did the fact that we crammed our studying into the night before and never paid attention in class. The same goes for our peers. People don’t fail just because they are dumb or lazy. They are numerous factors that cause somebody to fail, both due to who they are but also external factors. Using the test-taking example, there could be countless reasons why somebody might have trouble concentrating during an exam. They could have a mental disability, an eating disorder causing them to be hungry, or the weight of a ill family member or friend on their mind.
The point is, you just never know what somebody else is going through. I think a lot about this especially when I am being checked out at the grocery store by a less than enthusiastic employee. They may seem grumpy, rude, and overall just not very nice. I am often quick to judge and label them as a “mean” person as a result. But, if I just take a step back, there is certainly more to the story. For starters, they are working as a grocery store cashier with low pay and uneven hours. I don’t mean to be rude or demeaning, but I do not think anybody would call that their dream job.
But, even if they do usually enjoy their job, who the heck knows what else they are dealing with? I know absolutely nothing about their life besides the name on their shirt. They could have kids at home they wish they could be making dinner for or helping with their homework, but have to work instead to pay the bills. They could be an immigrant with no family or real friends at all in the area. They could be stuck in an unhealthy relationship or recovering from the end of one. They could be depressed simply from the hardships of life they have faced. Whatever it may be, they could be going through something more difficult than we could ever imagine.
And I believe we need to give them the benefit of the doubt. There is always more to somebody’s behavior than what we see on the surface. So give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe even a smile. It might be the first one they have seen all day. Or even make them smile for the first time in a long time. While you may never know what they are dealing with, you also never know what an small act of kindness can do for them as well.