The fundamental attribution error leads us to interpret the behavior of others as reflecting something inherent about those people, more than is warranted. However, the language we use plays a role in that judgment as well. Our labels often describe who people are instead of what they’re doing, e.g. pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, or drivers. Each one of those terms gives us a category to which those people belong, making it easier to attribute their actions as reflecting some property of members of that category. That, in turn, makes it more difficult to progress towards a multimodal and sustainable transportation system.
I propose a different and deliberate use of language to mitigate this:
- Old: pedestrians. New: people on foot, or people walking.
- Old: cyclists. New: people on bikes, or people cycling.
- Old: transit users. New: people on transit.
- Old: drivers or motorists. New: people in cars, or people driving.
Sometimes we’re in cars, sometimes we’re on transit, sometimes we’re on bikes, and sometimes we’re on foot. But we’re all people, and our perspectives are much more similar than the facile modal categories lead us to believe.