“Self-serving bias – as Kendra Cherry writes in her on line well documented article updated July 25th, 2020 – is how social psychologists describe humans’ tendency to blame external forces when bad things happen and to give ourselves credit when good things happen,” a tendency that goes back to the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve. Do we really believe that UN, public events, economic sanctions, statements, protest marches, civil disobedience, and social fast are sufficient advocacy actions to bring back Putin to peace talks? An interesting reflection, but on the remembering condition that to explain is not to excuse.
People are ready to take full credit for their successes and to blame others for their failures & bad luck. In psychology, it is a subjective evaluation that is distant from reality, and not objective; at the end, a person tends to consider elements that are not connected and devoid of rationality, as objective ones.
It occurs in the family, at school, at work and in all other social settings. If you succeed in an exam, self-serving bias suggests that it is because you studied hard. If you failed, it brings you to believe that the teacher did not put the question correctly, the day was too hot, or dinner the day before kept you up all night before the exam.
Self-serving occurs also in public life. After a disastrous meeting with a client, a businessperson blames dirty business practices on the others.
From the cry, weapons "worsen the conflict" and "let's get out of NATO", to the reflection "how to use diplomacy if the Ukrainians do not have weapons to defend themselves while discussing", to the invitation "I am fasting against war" and “European diplomacy is powerless”, even one of the most sacred actions, the defense of peace shows self-serving ideologies. Between “the pure and hard pacifists” and those who act as interpreters of “a healthy realism” there is division.
When self-serving reaches the international relations, risks of conflict loom heavily. Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Editor of Foreign office, comments in his note of 26/02/2022, “Just a few months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski had a warning for a triumphant West. Although the Cold War did end in the victory of one side and in the defeat of the other, the decisive outcome did not guarantee a smooth aftermath. Defeat had proved politically unsettling in Moscow and turned the wider region into a geopolitical vacuum. Securing the peace would require longer-range geopolitical vision to realize a more ambitious goal: the emergence of a truly post-imperial Russia that can assume its proper place in the concert of the world’s leading democratic nations.” The invasion of Ukraine makes “clear that the task ahead of the United States and its allies will be just as daunting as the one Brzezinski described in 1992.”
“Although [self/serving] can mean evading personal responsibility for your actions, self-serving bias is a defense mechanism that protects your self-esteem.” However, at the end, your self-defense becomes a wrong accusation of others. Examples in any one individual’s life are many: following a car accident, both parties involved blame the other driver; a high school basketball player makes a throw during the final seconds of a game and manages to make a basket. He attributes this to his skill at the game.
It is easy watching the foolish steps made by Putin to change on him all the blame, and forget the obscure US’ plan to prevent Russia to become a European country and NATO’s ambition plan to expand its influence eastwards. Putin is today an, “archenemy of the Atlantic Alliance, the one who is fighting on the front line for the de-Westernization of the international system. But, no one seems to remember that yesterday, that is, at the beginning of the 2000s, Putin was an enthusiastic liberal holding a holy card of Peter the Great and with the dream of creating an extended Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok” (Quando Putin guardava a occidente).
“A number of factors have been shown to influence the self-serving bias, including age and gender. Older adults tend to make internal attributions, that is, credit themselves for their successes. Men are more likely to make external attributions, meaning they tend to blame outside forces for their failures. When a person is depressed or has low self-esteem, this kind of bias may be reversed: they’ll attribute positive outcomes to outside help or even luck, and blame themselves when bad things happen.”
Culture also can be a source of self-serving. “Individualist cultures such as the U.S. place a greater emphasis on personal achievement and self-esteem, so protecting the self from feelings of failure is more important. On the other hand, collectivist cultures, such as tend to be found in Eastern cultures, are more likely to attribute personal success to luck and failures to lack of talent” (Kendra Cherry).
“The elderly, less interested in appearing successful in the group in which they find themselves and benefiting from a wisdom matured over time, are generally more inclined to a balanced evaluation of their work. Any form of presumption, based on selfish premises and distant from the correct social approach to others, leads to overestimation of oneself, to the inability to grow and learn from one's mistakes." (Marco Managò). Again, replacing this scenario in international relationships, it easy to see how dangerous approach Self-Serving Bias is.
There is, of course, a positive side of Self-Serving Bias. “It leads people to persevere even in the face of adversity. An unemployed worker may feel more motivated to keep looking for work if he attributes his joblessness to a weak economy rather than some personal failing. An athlete might feel more motivated to perform well if she believes that her failure was the result of bad weather rather than a lack of skill.” It is up to your friends, good friends, to “keep you in check with honest criticism about when a bad situation might be part of your own doing” (Kendra Cherry). Should not the United Nations provide this friendly approach?
However, when the willingness to recognize one's mistakes is lacking, the SSB, by altering merits and demerits, ends up in a sterile flatness, with no possibility of improvement; persons remain prisoners of their prejudices and preys of a reality’s distortions. Outward arrogance hides great inner fragility and difficulty, in a childlike attitude, of evaluating the management of skills, means and results. The inability to recognize one's SSB, ends in the refusal of all one's responsibility, and the human tendency to complacency arises in a natural and automatic way.
It becomes easy, then, to consider oneself the pivot of a positive event and the victim of a negative result. It is a failure in the management of responsibilities - personal, family, social, political -, of a true discernment, which leads to attribute to one-self only merits and to download failures on others. Among the nations, it leads to conflicts and sometimes to war.
On the other hand, “This type of behavior risks making others fall into the belief that they have failed, systematically. The mental repercussions, in this case, are heavy and whoever throws the other in this condition does not realize the gravity of the act committed" (Marco Managò).
It is easy to understand how a poorly managed self-serving attitude leads sad consequences upon the relationships between people, between groups, between countries. The example of the looming war in eastern Europe is a warning of how a bad Self-Serving Bias can poison international relations. The good or bad of a decision has to be judged always from the fruits, and consequences, it bears in the future. We see them “now”! Therefore, do we really believe that the UN, public events, economic sanctions, statements, protest marches, civil disobedience, and social fasts are sufficient advocacy actions to bring back Putin to peace talk?