I am reading now a book by Mr. Malcolm Gladwell called “The Tipping Point” (find it here at Amazon). The whole book is interesting, but I found one passage there which I wanted to share with you. This is namely a proof that we do judge character of our fellow human beings wrongly. It also explains, why we are sometimes disappointed or surprised by behaviour of someone we thought we knew. Not to mention, that in extreme causes this can also explain why seemingly “normal” neighbours become mad killers…
On page 160 in my book I found the following: “…The mistake we make in thinking of character as something unified and all-encompassing is very similar to a kind of blind spot in the way we process information. Psychologists call this tendency the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE), which is a fancy way of saying that when it comes to interpreting other people’s behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context…”
The book gives examples of psychological tests to prove above statement, but we don’t really need those, do we? It explains why our friend behaves differently at home and at work. It explains why we are stunned when someone we thought we knew behaves completely out of character.
The most important lesson from this is: to truly know someone, we need to know him in many different settings. Only then we will be able to build a picture of his character and have a chance of being closer with our judgement to the truth (if such thing exists in terms of character). Of course it is clear that this is only possible with people you spend a lot of time with, namely your friends. It is also quite possible that friends become friends for us because they are consistent in their behavior in many different situations. At least I would choose my friends that way. Now I also know that this consistency of character is not an easy feat to achieve… maybe this is why we (or me) appreciate such people more.