Daily Archives: September 16, 2009

Circumstance versus Character Trait

I generally find it a helpful mental exercise to imagine that a person’s behavior is the result of circumstance, and not the result of a fixed character trait. For example (an easy one), if someone is grouchy, this is because the person has been having a rotten day, not because this is a grouchy person. In Risk, someone may betray me. This person is a not a dirty backstabber, but someone who took advantage of an opportunity that I gave them. (By the way, I am not the originator of this mental exercise. I’ve seen it in various places, and it’s generally a more Eastern way of looking at things. The Western habit is towards committing the Fundamental Attribution Error.)

I usually find this helpful for negative behavior. It helps prevent anger on my part, and it helps me to better analyze the situation, which in turn, helps me find a better solution.

I’ve never used this mental exercise for positive behavior. It would be interesting to try; I hypothesize that it is helpful.