False Attribution: Most People Don’t Care About You (And That’s Great)

false attribution

“Oh no, that person over there noticed I’m getting a little pudgy.” “These people looking at my Facebook see that I’m not posting pictures with a significant other, they must think I’m lame because I’m single!” “My friends saw me order a cheaper drink at the bar, they probably think I’m a broke loser.” “I wasn’t invited to that party, everyone in the group must hate me.”

Ever say statements like those to yourself? You’ve probably thought at least one of them, or something similar. In this social media-driven modern world, we often imagine we live under a magnifying glass. Our lives are on full display. We imagine we’re judged for the things we share, or the things we don’t. We think the things that happen in our interactions are a consequence of it. Not being invited along for a bar outing is obviously because people think you’re annoying, right? That has to be the reason.

The Law of False Attribution

That mode of thinking places your mind in a literal logical fallacy: The Law of False Attribution. In the realm of discussion and debate, this is defined as appealing to an irrelevant or fabricated source in support of an argument. It’s kind of like that kid you knew in third grade who was told by his uncle that works at Nintendo that if you beat the Elite Four 100 times with a level 5 Weedle, you could catch Mewthree. It’s an outlandish claim by an unverified source, and we’re guilty of inflicting that same mode of thought on ourselves.

mega mewtwo x pokken tournament pokemon law of false attribution
I mean we kind of got Mewthree eventually…

In the field of psychiatry, this is a trait often attributed to people with narcissistic personalities. The difference here being is that narcissists will blame external events and other people for their problems. Many people, especially nerdy people like us, take this problem in the opposite direction. We blame ourselves for issues not directly related to ourselves or anything we do. This mode of thinking is just as destructive. We have to challenge it, if not for our own sanity’s sake.

Humans inherently seek order in the chaotic world we live in, it’s a consequence of our logical minds. We’re wired to seek patterns and systems to make sense of it all. Primitive people constructed stories of gods and monsters to explain natural phenomenon they wouldn’t understand until thousands of years later. Wacky conspiracy nuts latch onto nefarious narratives of shadow government cabals to make sense of disorder and tragedy. We construct our own ‘conspiracy theories’ when social interactions don’t pan out: It didn’t go my way because people hate me or there’s something wrong with me.

heath ledger joker batman the dark knight false attribution
“It’s all part of the plan…”

The Hero’s Journey(s)

Thousands of years of storytelling narrative put its own spin on how we view our world: We view our life as a story, and we’re the hero of it. Stories exist to affect and be affected by their heroes. Our own personal narratives are no different: The things that happen in our lives are supposedly a direct result of something we do or something directly intended to happen to us.

Now consider the fact that everyone around you also views life as a grand tale they are the hero of. That adds up to about six billion conflicting narratives. Causes for events won’t add up when everyone views them differently. Outside of your friends, family, and associates, most people are too wrapped up in their own hero’s journey to care about yours. Don’t take this as a disheartening fact, it’s a relieving one.

world of warcraft false attribution
“How am I supposed to be the greatest hero in Azeroth when there’s so many other people trying to be the greatest hero?”

Just as you might believe the entire world is judging you, almost every other person thinks the same thing. Unless you’re a celebrity or high-profile politician, there is no magnifying glass hovering over you, exposing your flaws to the world. Strangers or even casual acquaintances are too concerned about their own magnifying glass to look into yours. Simply put, most people don’t care about you until you directly affect their lives, whether it be in a negative or positive way.

Stop Caring, Because They Don’t

If everyone else is too concerned with their own fears of judgment, they’re too occupied to judge you. Try to keep this in mind as you navigate social situations in your life. If you’re afraid to go to the gym because you worry people will scoff at you for not lifting as much as they do, remember they’re either worried about judgment themselves or are too wrapped up in their own workouts to care about yours.  If you’re upset you weren’t invited to someone’s house party, remember that seven out of ten times it wasn’t a malicious act. They just didn’t think about you when planning, and that means you haven’t had enough of an impact on their life to be on their mind.

Use this as an impetus to go out and affect someone’s life in a positive way. If you want to be included in a group of people’s activities, get to know them better. Reach out to people. Take an interest in their story so that they would take interest in yours. I can’t promise everyone will accept your offer of kindness or properly return it, but your chances of inclusion are much higher when you proactively seek friendships instead of sitting back and hoping it comes to you.

captain benjamin sisko star trek deep space 9 false attribution
Take it from Sisko.

If people aren’t responding to your acts of kindness, well, screw ’em. You don’t need unappreciative or unreceptive characters in your hero’s journey.

No Fault of Your Own

“Nobody cares!” doesn’t always have to be a disheartening statement, it can be a vindicating one. Don’t let false attribution cloud your vision. The next time you worry about judgment, remember that metaphorical magnifying glass doesn’t exist and other people worry more about being judged themselves to judge you. They only care when you directly interfere with their lives, so interfere in a positive way.

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