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  • Chris Wharton


If it usually ends up making an ass out of u and me, why do we continue to make assumptions about people?

Most of us likely don’t take the time to reflect on the daily assumptions we make and how they are based on the deeply held stereotypes we have, and that these lead to automatic brain processing when we encounter others.

"He must play basketball"; "she's got to be oppressed"; "they probably don't speak English"; "he's obviously a Trump supporter"; "she must be good at math"; etc.

I wonder how often our assumptions are wrong.

Acknowledging and challenging our assumptions allows us to uncover our unconscious biases. This is not only important for our personal growth, but it’s essential for successful intercultural communication.

A story from last week ...

I was in the queue for the self-service checkout at a grocery store. It was one of those lines that stretched pretty far down an aisle – easy to miss. An elderly Sikh man walked up to the front of the line with his basket of goods. He was greeted by a smiling clerk who told him where the end of the line was. At first, he appeared not to understand, but after the clerk pointed to the back of the line, he proceeded to join the queue.

I was next up, so I pushed the start button on the self-service screen and grabbed my first item. As I passed it under the scanner, I saw a woman with a cast on her foot approach the elderly man at the back of the line. She shook her finger in his face and yelled at him for parking in the disabled parking stall in front of the store. “I know it was you!” she yelled as she grabbed her young daughter’s hand and stormed off.

After witnessing this scene, I had a few thoughts:

First, that was not a kind, considerate, or appropriate way for the woman to speak to another human, especially in front of her young, impressionable daughter.

Second, I felt so bad for the gentleman, who just wanted to buy a few groceries and ended up getting a tongue-lashing from an angry woman.

Finally, I thought, how did this woman know that this man parked in the disabled spot? She must have seen him with her own two eyes. Or did she just witness the interaction with the clerk and assume if he didn’t understand where the queue started, he probably didn’t understand what the blue and white parking sign meant?

As I was putting my groceries in the back of my car, I saw the man come out with his two grocery bags and walk to the far corner of the parking lot and get in his car.

The point of this story is not to call out the woman and make her feel like a terrible human being for assuming the worst about a fellow human being and being wrong. The point is to encourage all of us to:

· Acknowledge assumptions as they’re made (e.g., Am I making an assumption?)

· Challenge these assumptions (e.g., Could I be wrong?)

· Extend the benefit of doubt to our fellow human beings (e.g., It probably isn’t what I think it is.”)

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