Fundamental Attribution Error

hershey park

I drive my family crazy sometimes. I have psychology on “the brain”. Things I’m studying, things I’m teaching, things I’m thinking about (the dreaded dissertation looms after all), I tend to talk about. I mean a lot. Even when you don’t want me to.

Spring is a busy month for Hearing Elmo. For some reason, lots of folks tune in and contact me. I love to write (even email responses) so I don’t mind at all. To me? This is what Hearing Elmo is all about. I’m glad to be a small part in helping to raise awareness about invisible disAbilities and chronic illnesses. I learn SO MUCH from so many of you who write. So thanks! 🙂

Lately, I’ve had a lot of conversations both email and face-to-face with folks who are struggling with bad thoughts. Thoughts about strangling someone.

Even though it’s deserved.

People with disAbilities or chronic illness are often judged. Sometimes it’s a first impression. Sometimes it is by someone who knows better. I want to cover both today. In psychology we call this the “Fundamental Attribution Error”. Lilienfeld, Lynn, Namy, and Woolf (2013), explain that the fundamental attribution error “refers to the tendency to overestimate the impact of dispositional influences on other’s behavior. By dispositional influences, we mean enduring characteristics, such as personality traits, attitudes and intelligence. Because of the fundamental attribution error, we also tend to underestimate the impact of situational influences on other’s behavior” (p. 501). It’s that last part I want to talk about in this post.

People with Disability or Chronic Illness are Misunderstood

If you are reading this post you likely have some connection to invisible illness or disAbility. Perhaps your condition is not invisible at all. You may live with personal challenges.

easter 2014

Easter Sunday I came home from church with husband and hound dog and went downstairs to work. After about 20 minutes I came to the realization many of you do each and every day. I was wiped out. I knew I would get far more work done if I went upstairs to take a nap. Some folks call these “power naps”. Me? I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I need naps sometimes because I have Meniere’s disease and hear with a cochlear implant. I’m 47-years-old. I get tired. I get tired a lot! So trudging upstairs I passed my husband in the family room and said, “I’m going upstairs to take a nap“. I stood there a second to see if that elicited any reaction.

Now Terry has been married to me long enough to know that if I actually say I need a nap, you better let me take a nap. No smart remarks. He only said, “Be sure to close the blinds or Chloe will bark at every little thing“. I’ve “trained him well“, yes?

But it isn’t easy being the significant other of someone who has a invisible illness or disAbility. When Terry first married me I was only unilaterally deaf and no balance disorder to speak of. Fast forward 28 years and I am now at a point where I can still do a lot. I have dreams, goals, work hard, am a wife, mother, mentor, teacher, student and writer… and I take naps.

I have been out and about before running errands or just shopping with my best friend – Terry Portis. I have out of the blue said, “Ok. You need to take me home.” The last time this happened we were going to a super Target. We had just parked in the parking garage and Terry started to get out. “Ok“, I said. “You need to take me home“.

He stopped and looked at me. After a long pause he asked incredulously, “You mean… now?

I looked at him eyeball to eyeball (which can be uncomfortable with the risk of losing your contacts – but I needed him to know I meant business). “Now” I responded.

So we went home. Sometimes when I “run out of gas” I do so very suddenly. There can be little warning. You could make me push it and we’ll both risk the reality of a major nosedive in “Lawn and Garden” with mild concussion and concerned gathered crowd to show for it. (Clean-up on aisle twelve…)

None of us ask to develop acquired disAbilities. No one prays for a chronic illness. People we know and love may get peeved at us that we require more rest than we use to need. Part of it may be that they miss doing things with you that they use to be able to do. My husband loves Target. But sometimes? Well sometimes you need to take me home and do it NOW. That can be hard.

So those of us who have the chronic illness or disAbility need to be understanding too. But… don’t be afraid to talk about it. One of my favorite “opening statements” for a heart-to-heart conversation begins like this:

“When you say (or do) _________________ it makes me feel like _______________.”

It lets the people I care about know that it DOES bother me when they say or do something – not seeing the whole picture. They don’t understand the situation well enough to get why I behaved a certain way or responded a certain way. So I need to remind them. That’s OK.

If you are the “significant other” – try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You don’t want to really know what they are going through for that would mean you’d have to share the disAbility or diagnosis to really get it. What they are going through is really… REALLY…

HARD.

But you know what? They can get through it because you are there to help them, encourage them, and cheer them on! (So don’t forget how influential you can be, OK?)

For Those Who Don’t Know me

Several times a year someone who doesn’t even know me will say something that I almost come unglued about. I have one of those moments where I want to strangle someone. But in most states that is still against the law…

Costco, October 2013: I was in the meat section trying to decide how many crock-pot size meals I wanted to make in the next couple of weeks when I heard a woman about 3 feet away say, “Oh MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!! A dog, in the meat section. I’m going to complain to the manager“.

I turned around and saw this woman standing there with hands on hips and an embarrassed husband standing next to her. Well my friends? Sometimes good sense just rushes right out of my head. I pointed my finger in her face and said, “This is a service dog. I am late-deafened and have a balance disorder. This dog has picked up dozens of things for me since I’ve been in this store for the last 20 minutes. You shouldn’t judge what you don’t know. I’d rather have disAbilities than be stupid. You can’t fix stupid“. And I walked away.

Amidst applause. For it seems we had drawn a crowd.

Yet I will be honest with you. More times than not I do NOT get to say something pithy and intelligent. Sometimes my heart is broken. Sometimes I walk away crushed. Sometimes I strangle people. (Ok, maybe not but I may FEEL like it).

It can be really hard when people judge what they don’t know. After stumbling into an end cap at a store I had a person jest, “Little early to be drinking, isn’t it?” I could get mad and “let it rip”. Or strangle. Cuz yeah I’m a little sidetracked by how satisfying that would be right now. But folks don’t know me. They don’t know my reality, or my day-to-day situational influences that have me moving, responding, and requesting naps. Then I have to make a decision.

A) Strangle them

B) Scream at them

C) Walk away. It isn’t worth it.

“C” is the best response most of the time.

———

Do you get tired easily? Does fatigue trigger headaches, body aches, and brain fog? Do you sometimes just need a NAP? People may not understand that. They may think you are being lazy. They may think you should try harder. They may need strangled…

… with the truth. So tell them!

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Lilienfeld, S. O., Lynn, S. J., Namy, L. L., Woolf, N. J. (2013). Psychology: From inquiry to understanding (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson Publishing.

 

 

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We Can’t Know What it Means

Entry Photo for Cara Gregg - Columbia, MD

When I want to go to the store, I load up my service dog and away I go. When I go to church, I just walk out the door to my townhome’s parking place and get in my old car and drive safely to the place I call my church home. Whenever I need to go somewhere, I have a reliable way to get there. My orange, small Caliber is old with lots of miles on it, but it runs and it is reliable. I am grateful for that.

A good friend of mine, Cara, does not have reliable transportation. She cannot get in my Caliber. You see Cara not only has a service dog, (and Tank is a handsome, helpful boy), she is also in a scooter. She has an old accessible van with over 150,000 miles on it and sometimes the lift does not work. Many times Cara must lift the base of the scooter lift to get it to go all the way into the van. She is currently in a contest with many other wonderful people, with the National Mobility Awareness Month. An accessible van will be given to the registered participant with the most votes… and you can vote DAILY.

Because there are so many people in the contest who are worthy – I’m quite sure – I wanted to let you know why I think Cara deserves to win. After reading my story, I hope you will vote (a simple process), and do so daily. I hope you will encourage others to vote, and share the link through email, FaceBook, Twitter, etc.

Cara is a person with disabilities but is in no way disabled. She has MS and Interstitial Lung Fibrosis. She recently lost her special needs son, Justin to an undiagnosed heart condition. Cara is now on permanent disability. But… Cara volunteers more than most able-bodied people. She is a coach of a special Olympics team. She does the Polar Bear Plunge for Special Olympics. She volunteers for Fidos For Freedom, Inc., and is an unpaid staff person. She mentors new people to the service dog organization. Cara works hard. She just doesn’t get paid. She does, however, receive a lot of joy and finds a sense of purpose in what she does. Cara has people who need her. People who count on her.

Cara only wants reliable transportation. She requests your vote. I request your vote on her behalf! There is no one more worthy. Let’s help her continue to be able to volunteer and serve in her community. Let’s help her not have to worry about how she will get to the grocery story, doctor’s offices, or pharmacy. I hope you will help. A one time registration takes less than two minutes. Then it takes 30 seconds a day to vote. Hate junk mail? Me too! Be sure to click the box “OFF” for being willing to receive emails from the organization. I don’t blame you! I do it every day myself as I don’t need more email in my Inbox.

This will mean so much to Cara if she wins. Can you do your part? 30 seconds a day? Please read her very special story at this link:

CLICK HERE

Will you share her story with others? The contest ends soon! Thank you in advance!

Denise Portis

Make a Difference

make a difference

My paternal grandmother passed away unexpectedly on March 28th. She was instrumental in my becoming, well – ME. I told her the FIRST time how important she was to me at Silver State Youth Camp in the Rocky Mountains when I was 13-years-old. I made it a point to tell her at least once a year, and to my knowledge never missed a year of telling her how important she was to me.

We have people we care about, and then there are usually a smaller group of people who influenced who you are. I’m convinced we do not have a whole lot of opportunities in life to invest ourselves THAT WAY in the life of another.

Searching for Significance

One of my favorite books is by Robert McGee. Searching for Significance is something all of us long for I believe. Something it took me years to learn, however, is that “significant” is what you deem important. What I think is significant and life-changing, may not mean a hill of beans to you. And that’s OK. We can’t find significance by asking others how they measure that. Significant things are as unique as people are. This is why so many of us are invested in causes, hobbies, and community service. For US, these things add significance to our lives. We want to make a difference by being involved.

One of my favorite quotes is by Joseph Campbell. “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”  I find this rather profound. WE bring meaning TO life.

Life is hard. Living with disabilities is hard. Living with adult children at home is hard (not really but I had to throw that in there). If I expect my life – with all it’s trials and successes, joys and sorrows, to provide meaning, I’ve missed the whole point of living.

Some folks think they are not in a position to make a difference. You don’t have to have money or advanced degrees to make a difference. Everyone has some kind of talent. I have friends whose disabilities are severe enough they are really home-bound. Yet they have made such a difference in my life through the short emails or messages they send me – right when I need encouragement the most. I have had people I don’t even know make a difference.

I will never forget the homeless man I met at the inner harbor in Baltimore. My “quick diagnosis” was schizophrenia. He was a beggar, entertainer, and to many a nuisance. He stopped me to ask about my service dog. He asked if he could have her and promised to take good care of her. When I explained what she does for me I actually got choked up. He listened attentively and then squatted down and held her head for a moment. He muttered something to her and I couldn’t make it out. (It hadn’t registered with him that I said I was late-deafened). He looked up and said a little louder, “I was jus’ tellin’ her to be the best dog for you she could be because life is short. She makes a difference so she has to count now, not tomorrow”. I was like, “Woah.” That has stuck to me like super glue for 6 years now. It has inspired me to make a difference TODAY. We aren’t promised tomorrow to make a difference. Count now.

Just Remember to TELL THEM

If someone else does something that makes a difference to you, won’t you tell them so? It doesn’t have to be a huge announcement. It doesn’t have to be a flamboyant gesture. No need for helium balloons and streamers. Just tell them, “You made a difference”.

My grandparents... together again.
My grandparents… together again.

We need to let others know when they influence us or inspire us. Who am I because of my grandmother? Those who knew us both tell me I get my stubbornness from her. They also tell me my love of dogs, singing voice, hair color, and ability to confront people with courage all come from her. The reality is that even when my life began to change as the result of Meniere’s disease and deafness, her letters made a difference. She is a writer, and encourager, a cheerleader, an advocate, a teacher, and a legacy-builder. When she wrote, a common theme included near constant reminders that *I* could still make a difference. She encouraged me to be an advocate.

I am.

She encouraged me to write.

I do.

She told me I should not be afraid to speak and present to others.

I’m not and I do.

Her legacy of “making a difference” spans generations.

Very likely I do not know you personally. However, I do know that you *POINTS THROUGH YOUR COMPUTER SCREEN* can make a difference. It doesn’t have to be big. Betcha it is big to someone else though! That is what making a difference is all about.

Denise Portis

© 2014 Personal Hearing Loss Journal