The Thing About Assumptions…

So something funny happened to me a day or two ago. It’s kind of embarrassing, but it’s a great example, so I thought I would share.

While driving to work I was approaching a busy intersection where panhandlers typically stand with cardboard signs.

On the corner waiting for the crosswalk, there was a 20-ish guy with faded clothes and a backpack. He had wild, shaggy hair and was badly in need of a haircut. I’m not proud of this but my first thought was “oh there goes another pandhandler”.

As I got closer I then noticed he was holding a skateboard, and his clothes were not truly shabby but rather intentionally shabby. Shabby chic. The kind where you expend some effort to send a clear signal that you don’t care about appearances. The next thought that ran through my head was something like “skateboard, slacker, probably doper”.

And THEN, as I got even closer, I recognized him. It was someone I KNEW.

He is not a  panhandler, and he’s certainly not a slacker. He is a post-doctoral student from France, here specifically to study at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. He is devoting his very considerable talents to studying neural coupling in the brain, attempting to create a mathematical model for understanding schizophrenia. He is sweet, tidy, considerate, and his mathematical talent is dazzling. I know all this because he and his girlfriend stayed in my home for two weeks when she first arrived from France. His girlfriend who is a physician in France, I might add.

At this point I felt like a first-class heel, and was reminded of a bad cliche I’ve heard many times: when you make assumptions, you make an Ass of U and Me. But in this case mostly me.

Had I not known him, I would have continued on with my day & never given it a second thought, never knowing how wrong I had been.

And it made me wonder–where else in my life may I have jumped to the wrong conclusion? What other assumptions have I never questioned?

Something to think about.




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