We are more.
I found this saying by Brian Stevenson, Equal Justice Project, in his book “Just Mercy” (there’s also a film by the same name starring Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Foxx). He states “each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done. … We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. … I believe necessarily that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and perhaps we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
We are more than the worst thing we have ever done. That’s good stuff, don’t you agree?
Others define us by what we do, and we in turn define others by what they do.
The things we do are not us, at least not entirely. We might do things because we are experiencing a mental health crisis or out of desperation, or just because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Dr. Albert Ellis, father of rational emotive behavior therapy said, “To define others, or ourselves for that matter, for one behavior out of the thousands of behaviors we may do over a lifetime is ridiculous.”
Why does this happen?
In social psychology we call this the “fundamental attribution error.”
What is the fundamental attribution error? It refers to our tendency to attribute what others do — behaviors, acts — to their character or their personality flaws while attributing our own behaviors to forces beyond our control.
Another way of saying this is we cut ourselves a break, but we don’t do the same for others. We hold others accountable for what they do, but we don’t hold ourselves accountable.
It’s called an “error” because we fail to take into account the situation or circumstances this person may have found themselves in. Maybe they had no choice but to commit the act. Maybe it was the choice between two evils, and they chose the lesser evil of the two.
The fundamental attribution error exists because it’s how we perceive our world. Because you and I, when it comes to our own actions, have some inkling of our own character, inducements and circumstantial factors that affect us daily — but we rarely know what’s going on with someone else.
So, what do we do when it comes to others? We literally make things up, based on limited knowledge of the person or the circumstances.
The fundamental attribution error is similar to what social psychologists call the “confirmation bias.” In fact, the two often go hand in hand. In the confirmation bias, we tend to search, explicate and recollect information in a way that supports our long-held belief. In doing this, we select information that supports our perspective and ignore information that is contrary to that belief.
So next time you are tempted to judge someone, ask yourself: Do I really know the reason why this person is acting this way? The answer is you probably don’t. Because we don’t know why others are acting or doing what they are doing then we shouldn’t judge them, right? Right!
Brain Stevenson is correct. “We all need some measure of unmerited grace.”
Give grace to others. Giving grace simply means you make the conscious choice to be courteous and nonjudgmental. Here is a truism: The more you give grace, the more you will receive in return.
Because you and I “are more than the worst thing we have ever done.”
Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.