Assumptions are everywhere. Like flies over roadkill. And they are sneaky. You don’t realize one is staring you in the face until something doesn’t work the way you expected. Something is out-of-place. But it’s not really. Your assumption, your assumed script, is wrong.
I think of the little old couple you see walking hand in hand in the park. We are quick to assume. He hands her an ice cream cone and we melt. Isn’t that sweet. Until you learn the truth, that possibly they just met in person after online dating, you will see what you want to see. It’s like those pictures that shift. At first glance you see the face of the crone but take another look and you see a senorita dancing.
The first magazine article I ever sold was about something I had seen and had to do a double take. An older man walking his dog. A little black dog. I was driving to the library in the small town that I lived in and there on Main street, suddenly the dog ran up a tree. The man was still holding the handle of the leash and my mouth dropped open. I slowed down. Not a dog at all. It was a black cat. The man was walking his cat. Please remember, this is small town america, 15+ years ago. I had to tell someone. I was so flabbergasted when I went into the library, I hurried in to speak with the librarian who told me quite a story.
They say when you are piloting a ship, you must stick to your coordinates. If you are off just a pinch, you’ll miss your destination completely. Won’t even come close. Pilots of large aircraft don’t fly by whim. Charts, gauges, coordinates and lots of practice. They don’t assume.
We know how easy it is to be influenced in our perceptions, although we’d like to believe that ours are not so easily swayed as the common person’s. Detectives say you can ask different people who saw the same crime or accident and get completely different stories. I can see how that would be possible. According to a podcast on Radiolab, our perceptions are malleable in the beginning. After retelling your version of the story a few times, then it becomes a more solid memory. So if you were at the scene of an accident and suddenly someone runs up to you and asks if you saw the red Camaro that drove off, the image of the red Camaro would be formed into your memory. So cleverly insinuated into the memory that you think it was something you saw with your own eyes. But you didn’t. There never was a red Camaro.
Expectations and perceptions develop throughout our lives. Our family and teachers help form our view of life, along with events that happen in our childhood. What we expect, what we believe can happen, becomes ingrained. Somewhere back in my history I developed a fear of stop lights and crossroads. I’m not sure when, how, or why it developed, but I did see it in action one morning. While stopped at an intersection, on a busy street, I was waiting for the light to turn green. The lane to my right was a turning lane and it was empty. There were no cars behind me. I keep watch (training) while I’m sitting still. What am i watching for? Collisions. Impending doom. I feel it and I’m glancing in all my mirrors and watching to my left and my right. I’m not sure what I’d do because I’m stuck at that spot until the light turns. I glanced one more time in my rear view mirror and noticed a delivery truck coming up behind me, but he seemed to be slowing. I’m still watching all around me, so my eyes left him to check to the left. Then I heard the sound of a rushing vehicle. At that moment, I there was a collision of false perception and paranoid expectations. The sound of a rushing vehicle coupled with the truck behind me slammed my panic button and took my breath away. I just knew I was going to be rear ended and smashed into the car in front of me. But nothing happened. The panic turned into a question. What just happened? I looked behind me and there was the truck with plenty of space between us. The reality struck me. my aha moment. A car had sped into the right lane. A non-event that took my breath away. What am I? A trembly old woman? Seriously, I felt 10 degrees of silly.
If you look at a situation, a freeze framed moment, without putting it in perspective you will most likely read it wrong. For example, if you have a person who owns a broken down old house, what are your assumptions? It could be a person who is down on his luck. Job loss, medical bills, termites, basically can’t afford to pay for repairs. Or it could be someone who purchased the house to fix it up. Are they waiting for a loan to come through and then they will repair the roof and replace the broken windows? A snatch of a photo gives you such a brief glimpse. How would you know? Then again, you are still predicting the future with either one of those scenarios. The man who lost his job may find one again. It’s possible that even tomorrow he could receive a big bonus or help from a friend. The one waiting for the loan may get hit by litigation or they could have a string of bad luck. Ever see the movie Money Pit?
Assumptions and future forecasting is a precarious slope. You may end up being right and glow in the glory of your own wisdom. But then, you could be completely wrong. I still say God has a sense of humor. Sometimes it borders on the ridiculous.
Which is why I hate stereotyping and racial profiling. Also I’m blonde…and I’ve met just as many ditsy brunettes and redheads with IQ’s lower than mine. So assume at your own risk.