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Thursday
Mar272014

Life’s Color Hides beyond Your Assumptions

Based on superficial facts and observations—what I do for a living, my education, my race, my sex, my hair length—people assume they know my political stances, musical preferences, preferred leisure-time activities, favorite sports to play and watch, and dating preferences.

A few uncontroversial examples:

  • People tell me they never would have guessed that I like rap and hip-hop music. Typically, when I tell them I do, they think I jest.
  • People express complete bafflement that I love boxing—watching it and practicing it. They’ve said they find it irreconcilable with their perception of me.
  • People doubt me when I say that I avoid dressy, fussy functions whenever possible, preferring casual wear.

None of these preferences seem at all surprising to me. Why shouldn’t I like boxing and rap? What makes people think I wouldn’t? Why do people expect me to want to visit fancy restaurants in couture? What makes them expect that I would? That I’m a white, female business owner? That I have a hoity-toity education?

Assumptions have purpose, as do stereotypes. Stereotypes provide mental shorthand, saving us thinking time and energy. With stereotypes, we don’t have to consider variables or nuances—we can quickly group people according to their most obvious characteristics and act accordingly.

Evolutionarily, using all possible shortcuts to make a rapid-fire decision could mean life over death. A springbok doesn’t spend time gathering additional information about a cheetah on the horizon. If it did, bonus for the cheetah—springbok for lunch.

So I don’t take offense at most of the assumptions others have about me that I happen to uncover. I find it curious. Thought provoking.

Yet sort of sad.

I challenge us to think past our assumptions. Get to know people, places, and things beyond their surfaces. The meat and marrow lie past the skin. The good stuff takes time and patience.

Sticking to initial assumptions makes us all poorer.

When did you last make a wrong assumption?

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