Dear friends, colleagues, and students,
Being “woke” requires a certain amount of self-reflection, and that isn’t always pleasant. It can be uncomfortable to take a hard look at your own behaviors. Case in point: this thing we communication scholars call “self-serving bias.”
Self-serving bias works like this: If I do well at something, it’s because I’m so worthy. If I do badly, it’s because of some external factor beyond my control.
I feel a certain wry amusement with my students because we study this phenomenon in class, yet they never seem to be able to recognize it in themselves. If they do well on the exam, it’s because they’re smart and they studied hard. If they do poorly, it’s because the professor is unfair, the exam is too hard, the room was too warm, the guy who sits beside them breathes oddly, or their shoes were too tight.
I’m guilty of it too, but I only notice when I check in with myself.
Think about it. If you’re late for work, is it truly because traffic was heavy, you hit every red light along the way, and got stuck behind a slow driver? Or could you have left the house a bit earlier? If you forgot to bring materials to a meeting, is it truly because you’re so swamped with other work, you had to take a phone call just now, and the copier was broken? Or did you forget to write it down and plan ahead?
We all do it. It’s self-preservation when we feel threatened. It’s face-saving. But hardly anyone recognizes it in themselves.
I try to. Do you?