Don’t judge a book by its cover. These words easily roll off our tongue, mine included, but it seems like so many things, it is easier said than done.
As I sit at the local coffee shop, embarrassedly to my surprise, the middle aged Caucasian woman next to me speaks with a Jamaican accent. I am reminded of the assumptions we can make about people, however innocuous, based on outward cues.
With this realization, we take time and care to present ourselves in a certain way, to project a specific image – using clothing, accessories, speech and tone to affect perceptions. Are people who wear glasses really smart(er)? Of course not. Do people in business suits command respect? Yes. Are those who have a British accent more cultured than those with an American one? Not always. Are all men handy with tools? Not some of the men I know.
Growing up I bristled at many of the stereotypes tied to the Italian-Canadian culture. Big families. Loud voices. Plentiful meals. Hand gestures. Etc. As I have gotten older I remain very aware of how my culture has influenced who I am, and at the same time the many ways I differ from the stereotype.
Having said that, there is a purpose to assumptions in that they help us make sense of ambiguous circumstances and give us a sense of understanding something or someone we likely know little to nothing about.
And certainly sometimes there may be some truth in the assumptions. But the great danger is when this leads to snap judgments and creates barriers between people, or worse - acts of violence.
To varying degrees we are all guilty of assuming, stereotyping and in the most extreme cases, criticizing people without the facts. The harder work is to remain open-minded, shed judgment, and hopefully give everyone a fair chance to present themselves and their ideas. After that, if we still disagree at least everyone has been heard.
Do you feel that you do your best to keep an open mind? Have you been surprised by a subconscious assumption you’ve made?