As children, we’re taught that we should “walk a mile in another man’s shoes” before we judge him. This is admirable advice, to be sure. However, I can’t help thinking that this advice isn’t as effective as it might have been.

In my last post, I discussed fundamental attribution error: incorrectly inferring that another person’s transgression is representative of their character rather than their situation. Fundamental attribution error seems like precisely the kind of error that the old aphorism begs us to avoid. So why doesn’t it work?

The topic of cognitive bias fascinating to us because we’re constantly surprised by our own biases. We’re shocked at the ways we fool ourselves.In short, we don’t know ourselves very well.

Yet, the traditional proverb relies on the assumption that we understand ourselves. If we really understood ourselves, then walking a mile in the other guy’s shoes would be highly informative. But since we don’t understand ourselves, we end up misunderstanding the other guy, and judging him incorrectly.

This is where understanding of cognitive biases can come to our rescue. By understanding our own thinking and our own biases, we can make more informed assessments about the actions of others.