Another Example of Self-Exceptionalism

It has always struck me that people always assume that they are better than the “others.”  People might be willing to make excuses for close friends or family, and will certainly make excuses for themselves.  But, when it comes to other people, well, they’re all a bunch of freaking idiots.

There’s a lot at work here.  It seems well documented (though I don’t have all the sources in front of me currently) that a) when something good happens to you, you credit your own skill, work ethic and value (e.g., I totally earned and more than deserve this promotion!); b) when something bad happens to you, you blame outside forces (e.g., I got fired from my job because my boss had it out for me); c) when something good happens to others, you credit it to outside forces (e.g., The boss just really liked them); d) when something bad happens to others, it’s totally their fault (e.g., Well, he got fired because he’s totally incompetent).

I always have a problem when I hear people say, “Well, people are just idiots!”  It goes without saying that you, of course, are not in said group of idiots.  But I always wonder if it occurs to these people that the people they are calling idiots are likely calling them idiots for things they didn’t realize they were doing.  For example: you’re driving down the road, and someone in the lane to your right starts to drift into your lane.  You honk, they look up, you see that they are texting on their cell phone.  “What an idiot!” might be among your more G-Rated responses.  Later, though, you’re texting, and all of a sudden  you hear a honk, only to realize that you’ve drifted slightly into the next lane.  You might flick them off, and argue that you weren’t really that close to hitting them, and, Hey, I got an important conversation going on here!  My wife is telling me which brand of bread to pick up from the store.  Hey, c’mon.  Hey!

You’re not an idiot, of course: you’re a smart capable person who had a small lapse in mental focus.

Thus, we have an extremely pervasive dual-standard.  And, I think, this double standard is very well represented by this study.  The preamble is standard and dated.  Here’s the bit that I think is important:

In March of 2011, the AAOS [American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons] commissioned a Harris Interactive Survey, the findings of which revealed how American drivers feel about multitasking, their own behavior behind the wheel as well as the choices of other drivers.

  • Of the more than 1,500 driving-age adults surveyed, NONE of them reported their own driving as unsafe. In fact, 83 percent claim to drive safely. And, yet they believe only 10 percent of other drivers drive “safely.”
  • Although drivers are aware that distracted driving compromises the ability of others to drive safely, one in five (20%) agree that they are a good enough driver that they can do other things while driving without compromising [their driving ability].
  • Among those who self-reported distracted driving behaviors overall, 30-44 year olds seem to be the worst offenders having more likely admitted to eating or drinking, talking on a cell phone or reaching in the back seat of the car while driving.
  • Many drivers that have experienced a near-accident due to their own distracted driving behavior say they will continue the behavior that caused them to swerve or slam on the breaks to avoid an accident.
  • The results showed that 94 percent of drivers in America believe that distracted driving is a problem in the U.S. and 89 percent believe it is a problem within their own communities.

I don’t think we have to look any further than this study to see how broken we are, frequently, when it comes to making logical interpretations of the actions of ourselves and others. Again, zero out of fifteen-hundred people admitted to being bad drivers, but, as a whole, the respondents think that only ten percent of people drive safely.

The disconnect is obvious.  Logically, it’s not possible that 90% of drivers are unsafe while 0% of drivers are unsafe — which is what the respondents of this study claim.

I think, at the end of the day, it’s a little bit difficult for any individual to say, “Hey, I screwed up, I made a bad decision, I was at fault.”  It’s much easier to to simply claim that the other is an incompetent idiot, and that’s why you almost got in an accident.  But maybe if we realized that we’re all just as likely to be at fault as the other, then maybe we could admit fault when it was our and have others admit fault when it was theirs, and move forward in a productive manner.

I guess it just seems frustratingly obvious to me that we can’t all be right when everyone thinks everyone else is a dolt while we ourselves are a last bastion of common-sense.  Yet that belief persists, and I think this study just sheds a little more light on it.

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