Fiona commented on yesterday’s post that the cyclist who crossed the pedestrian crossing while I was waiting can’t have had any idea of how much she would leave me thinking about our interaction, and that’s certainly right. It’s astonished me, how many things affect what I had previously believed to be my completely objective and unbiased thinking, and in what unexpected ways, and it must be the same for others too.

For instance, it annoys me when I’m waiting at a red light and a cyclist comes up on my inside, goes through the red light, across the junction and away. Why would this annoy me? Why, because he is attacking my internal justification of the requirement to stop at red lights as a Really Important rule and thereby causing me cognitive dissonance, of course. And, because of Fundamental Attribution Error (aka It’s Not Me But It Is You), I attribute his actions not to circumstance (maybe he doesn’t like being passed by cars as the road narrows after the junction) but to character; he is breaking the Rule because he is a Bad Person. Which suits me just fine, because it reduces my cognitive dissonance (he is breaking the rule because he is a Bad Person, whereas I keep it because I am a Good Person). And then Confirmation Bias (Moon Landings Conspirators Killed Kennedy) kicks in, and I find all sorts of other evidence that he and his ilk are Bad People.

But what about him? Well, in the first place, he will have his own cognitive dissonance around the fact he breaks the rule, which doubtless he deals with via internal justification (it’s not that important a rule, aka Not So Bad), and external justification (he doesn’t like being crowded by car drivers as the road narrows, aka They Made Me Do It). Plus he has his own Fundamental Attribution Error, in that he knows his behaviour is down to circumstance, not character. He believes he is a good person breaking a trivial rule for good reason, and has no idea that the car driver next to him views him as a bad person breaking a really important rule because he is a bad person. Oh, so much space for misunderstanding right there!

Fiona also asked yesterday whether it would help if, in a similar circumstance, the cyclist smiled at the waiting pedestrian as they went across the pedestrian crossing. I’m afraid the answer is, no, not really, because the pedestrian isn’t a mind reader and there is all this other stuff going on. So the cyclist, from their pov as a good person breaking a trivial rule for good reason, sees the smile as a nice acknowledgment to the pedestrian that they have seen them and are sorry they can’t stop for them. The pedestrian, on the other hand, from their own equally valid pov as a good person watching a bad person breaking an important rule because they are a bad person, may well interpret the smile as adding insult to injury: “They KNOW they’re doing a wrong thing and they’re still doing it! They must be a Very Bad Person indeed!!”

But do not despair, for there will be More Tomorrow. But first, may I urge you to Google Tucker’s Law (although be warned, it’s NSFW), not just because I adore Malcom Tucker and regard him as a witty and erudite epigrammist and student of the human condition the equal of Jane Austen, had Jane Austen worked for New Labour and had a mouth like a British army RSM, but it is also a lovely example of Fundamental Attribution Error in action.