For years I felt guilty because I didn’t do anything to prevent your suicide.
In 2002 we first met at a creative writing class.
I was there because of post school blues, working an entry level job in a post, and wondered if that was it. I dreamt of escaping the drudgery through turning the dumb cartoons I used to scribble into an outlet that would be my path to success.
You were there because you like Dr Who fan fiction and wanted to make friends – we barely talked.
From what I remember of you, you were always sat at the front of the class on a bank of desks all on your own.
During breaks you’d stare at that class whiteboard, and never turnaround to socialise.
Perhaps I am just a victim to my own false memory bias due to what happened, but you always looked like you had the weight of the world on your mind.
One week you didn’t show up, and that became two.
I didn’t think anything of it, that didn’t make you special people got bored and quit the class all the time.
By week three the creative writing teacher, started the class stumbling over his words in a hesitant tone.
“It’s my regret to inform you all, that Dave committed suicide…”
The teacher looked to the floor, brushing something off his fag stench tweed jacket, before he continued, giving us way too much detail about what, where and when this unfortunate event happened.
But he never went into the why – why would he do such an act?
The hero complex in me began wondering if I could have done more to save him.
This followed with feelings of guilt – could I have done more to converse with the poor guy?
It was through these feelings I somehow questioned had I contributed to Dave’s suicide by not being there for him when he needed it most.
Through time, feelings of wrongdoing subsided, not because I’d made peace with the situation, just that more things happening to distract me and nullified these feelings so much that I can’t even remember if Dave was actually his name.
Twenty years later in a totally unrelated situation I quit my job, because I wanted to do something new, and it was only when a colleague made a comment about me leaving
“I wish I had been more attentive towards you to avoid this situation”
I saw parallels with Dave’s suicide, and realised it was ridiculous to have even thought any of it was my fault.
I realised Dave’s suicide was not my fault.
Egocentric bias: failing to see reality when you make it always about yourself.
Egocentric bias, is a cognitive bias that heavily influences people’s points of view when looking at life.
This bias therefore causes people to not always understand people have different viewpoints, nor that their actions (or lack of action) doesn’t have as much impact on others as you think.
When I first heard the news that Dave died, this was a shocking incident for me, and I really rationalised I was responsible for the fate of a stranger by not being more friendly to him.
How egocentric bias impacts your life
Egocentric bias places more importance on yourself, than is actually true.
If you fall down in the street your vulnerability is not as apparent to others as you think – people aren’t all stood around waiting to laugh at your misfortune.
I’ll always remember doing open mic comedy, where I had a terrible gig where no one laughed. Embarrassed by the situation I slipped out by the fire exit to avoid being recognised.
Head down and remerging into the outside world I realised no one cared, and for months after the failure I always imagined a scenario I would be stopped in the street by someone who was there to mock me for trying, but it never happened.
Another bias is the belief that you do more of the work than you think. I’ve often worked in groups where I have a higher opinion of my self-worth, thinking I’ve done 80-90% of the work.
In an experiment with couples’ researchers found that couples when asked to estimate how much they contribute to the house, and how much their spouse does would respond favourably to their own efforts, while saying their partner does less.
Another way of showing egocentric bias is having the belief that “most” people share your values and political views.
I first noticed this when I worked in sustainability, where I would attend workshops discussing all thing environmental and social change. You would always hear someone make the same remark.
“Everyone is talking about this, so why isn’t more being done?”
The simple answer is that “most” people aren’t talking about it, which is why nothing has been done.
Overcoming egocentric bias
Just by being aware of the concept of egocentric bias you can spot this coming into play through yourself of others around you.
To avoid your thinking being clouded with obsession with yourself try the following:
Be aware of your bias:
If you’re frustrated a job hasn’t been done and it’s “common sense”, then it’s probably not. Make sure to seek out the perspective of others and find out what the problem is.
Challenge your bias:
Call out your bias if something you say doesn’t seem right – remember feelings aren’t facts.
Thinking your responsible for a strangers suicide because you didn’t talk to them is absurd – be critical with your thinking, look at the logical evidence around you.
Recognise you’re not as significant as you think:
Recognise the work of others – you might feel like you’re doing all the housework, but appreciate what your partner does.
It’s worth remembering that life isn’t a movie where you’re the star and everyone else is extras. People have their own problems to be concerned with laughing at your failures.
In this post I opened discussing a tragic situation – a suicide. Because of my own egocentric bias, I placed more importance on myself being a key player who could have prevented this, when in reality that was ridiculous!
Like my colleague who believed if they had done more I would have stayed in my old job, knowing my own perspective – I was bored and I wanted to do something new, we don’t have as much influence on others as we like to think.
When you recognise that people aren’t scrutinising you as much as you think, this is liberating and it allows you to take risks without fear that everyone is sat around ready to laugh at your humiliation.
I invite you to reflect on the biases you show yourself.
Wishing you the best in your success
James @Perfect Manifesto