This is a follow up to yesterday’s post in which I talk about the inherent biases that my brain has regarding people and behaviors.
Today’s post is a continuation on that with the theme I am a judgmental bitch, and so are you. I didn’t make that the title because I felt like that was too judgmental, but that’s what my head wanted to call it.
Anyway, this is partially based on an article I read about someone who left a note on a BMW that was parked in a handicapped space. The owner of said vehicle is a quadriplegic man whose wife responded with an open letter. So what happened here? Well, it would appear as if someone saw a “fancy” car and assumed that the type of person to drive that car was “I’m guessing male 25-35 years professional who thinks he’s got the world by the ass.” Not only is this person making an assumption about the type of person who drives a BMW but they are also making a much bigger and more offensive assumption: people who are disabled are obviously not professional people who could ever afford a car like that.
We’ve all been there. You look at the disabled parking space and see a car parked there and find yourself highly suspicious as to whether the owner is really disabled.
Why is this important? Because we all make these kind of assumptions on a daily basis and most of us have no idea of what these assumptions really mean. Do you really think that the person who wrote that note consciously believes that no disabled person has the ability to work, and that they are all poor and unable to afford nice things? I’m pretty certain that if asked, the person would not agree with those statements. What was said did suggest this belief (along with one about the sort of people who drive BMWs) and that shows just how important it is to be aware of what our assumptions really mean.
When you see a woman screaming at her child in the middle of a grocery store, what do you think? Most people will judge her for “bad parenting,” but maybe she’s really struggling. Maybe her husband just died and this is the first time she’s been alone since he passed, and she’s just struggling to get by. She may never have yelled at her child before.
What about a man who is sitting in a playground watching the kids play without a child of his own? The first assumption in today’s world is pedophile. This has happened. Innocent men, even ones with kids of their own, have been attacked (verbally and physically) because people assumed they were pedophiles. Well maybe this man just lost his son and he’s out at the park to remember the good times. Just a grieving father trying to find some happy memories.
Finally, the smoker outside the hospital. You judge them for doing that right there by all the sick people, for being so blatantly disregarding of ones own health and the health of those around them. But you don’t know their story. Maybe they quit 20 years ago but just lost a parent and needed something to dull the pain.
We can’t judge the people we see for their actions because we know nothing about them. We don’t know what’s going on in their world. We make judgments all the time. You see an able-bodied white man and think life must be easy and fantastic for him. You see a able-bodied black man and wonder how hard his life must be, how many times he’s been pulled over by the police; you might wonder if he’s going to rob you. Whatever your assumptions whether they be based on experiences or hearsay they are all assumptions. Nothing you know from the past will tell you anything about the man standing before you.
Some assumptions are more serious and hurtful than others: the assumption that the black man wants to rob you, but all assumptions show an underlying lack of knowledge and understanding of others as well as a lack of self-reflection. When I tell people I am an only child they are genuinely surprised. They tell me that I don’t act like a spoilt brat and need to be center of attention all the time, that I’m a nice person, unlike all the other only children. I ask about how many people they know who were only children. I get similar answers; “oh, one girl in high school”, “my cousin”, “no one really, I just know”. These types of assumptions aren’t life-changing. It isn’t going to stop a person getting a job or going to a certain country if s/he is an only child, but it is indicative of our general desire to make assumptions which we then we fight tooth and nail to prove correct.
So once again I ask you to watch your assumptions. Just notice what you’re thinking about certain things and certain people. What gave you that conclusion? Is it fair to make that assumption? We like to generalize. It makes life easier. Just be careful that your generalizations aren’t hurting other people, or stopping you from seeing a new point of view.