There's No Such Thing As "That Kind of Person"

by Gretchen Rubin
Originally Published: 

One thing that made their story particularly striking to me is that I remember seeing Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder together, many years ago. It was in a drugstore somewhere in New York City, I can’t remember where. I do remember that Gilda Radner was carrying a little dog (named Sparkle, I now know from reading these memoirs).

A very peculiar aspect of fame is the fact that strangers remember the most fleeting encounters with you; it’s astonishing, really, that I remember seeing the two of them, for just a moment, so long ago.

© RR Auction/Wikimedia

One reason I remember them was that I remarked on how serious they both seemed. They were speaking in low, intense voices and looked solemn.

Well, maybe they’re only funny and lighthearted when they’re acting, I thought. Maybe that’s how famous comedians are in person. Or maybe they’re trying to be inconspicuous, because they’re famous.

In fact, this might have been the very day that Gilda Radner got a terrible report from her doctor. When I intersected with them would’ve been about the same time that she was sick. What for me was an ordinary day, with the added fun of a celebrity sighting, might have been one of the worst days of their lives.

This is a perfect example of fundamental attribution error, which Wikipedia defines as the “tendency for people to overemphasize dispositional, or personality-based, explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing situational explanations. In other words, people have an unjustified tendency to assume that a person’s actions depend on what ‘kind’ of person that person is rather than on the social and environmental forces influencing the person.”

I assumed that Radner and Wilder’s behavior reflected their characters; it never occurred to me that their behavior might reflect something happening to them.

Which reminds me: Always cut people slack. Always assume that their irritability, or unfriendliness, or absent-mindedness, neither reflects their true nature nor has anything to do with you. In brief, don’t take things personally. As Henri-Frédéric Amiel wrote, “Life is short and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. O, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind.”

To read more by Gretchen Rubin, visit her site.

Cover photo: an_untrained_eye/flickr

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