It is in my nature to try to look for the best in others. It’s one of the reasons I became a Probation Officer. If someone cuts me up in traffic I’ll reason that maybe they are on the way to the birth of their first child, or if someone is rude to me I’ll tell myself they must be having a bad day.
I’ve always been quite open and accepting of others. I remember I used to sit and chat with homeless people in the street when I was young. I’ll give them change if I have it, if a stranger talks to me I’ll gladly converse (unless they’re trying to sell me something, I have to draw a line somewhere).
But I’m not as trusting as I once was.
Some people might say this is just life experience: the older we get the more aware we are of what can go wrong. It would be easy to label this distrust as healthy scepticism.
But what if the world isn’t any scarier? What if it’s my perception that’s shifted?
As we get older we can become more impatient, more entrenched in our views and less willing to see if there’s another way to look at things: we’re adults after all, and sometimes we think we know it all!
We all make snap judgements based on our assumptions. Assumptions are actually an energy saving function of the brain. The brain strives for efficiency, and it will use our past experiences to form patterns, or assumptions, and apply them to new situations, thereby conserving energy.
Our past shapes our present view of the world.
This can be useful most of the time: when the light turns green we know we can go without having to question it, but sometimes we can be operating on outdated assumptions, or information that is flat out wrong, and not even realise it. Sometimes we can just interpret things differently: how many of you imagined yourself as a motorist sitting in a car when the lights turned green? How many of you were on a motorbike, or a pedal bike? How many of you imagined yourself as a pedestrian crossing the road? None are wrong, just informed by our individual experiences.
What about facts, they don’t change, right?
Scientific facts do. They’re evolving all the time, yet we often forget just how little we know. Its easy to become complacent and think we know it all. Charles Holland Duell, the Commissioner of the United states patent office in the late 1800’s is quoted as predicting the patent office would soon close because, ‘Everything that can be invented has been invented.’ I wonder what he’d think of ipads?
What about misconstrued facts? Have you ever realised there’s something from childhood you thought you knew for certain, only to find out you were wrong? I’ve got a few, mostly related to words:
Up until relatively recently I thought talon was pronounced tay-lon, I thought banal was pronounced bay-nal, and I thought Nambia was a country in Africa (must have got Gambia and Namibia mixed up in my head at some point!)
I was chagrined on each occasion I got things wrong.
But we can never know everything, even in areas we are passionate about. There is always room to question.
Questioning doesn’t have to mean overthinking things, or losing trust in ourselves.
I have experienced both of these things over the years, and the thoughts involved in wondering if we’ve misunderstood a situation, or choosing to look at something through a different lens, are very different from the circular questioning involved in overthinking, or the self flagellation often inherent when we lose trust in ourselves. The former have a sticky, dark and brooding energy, whereas the latter are curious, playful and inquisitive. It’s actually empowering and humbling to know that we will never know everything, and to accept that we can be wrong.
Indeed, as a situation unfolds and we get more information, sometimes we need to rethink our position entirely.
I was reminded of this recently when I misjudged a situation. However open or fair I aspire to be, to quote the Rag N Bone man: I’m only human, after all.
I was in my car, approaching a roundabout in two lanes of slow moving traffic, when the car in the outside lane stopped with its hazard lights on and a woman jumped out.
Assumption number one: she’s broken down .
But then she started to cross the road, leaving her car sitting in traffic with the hazards on. She seemed to be moving very intently towards a house on the street. I watched her incredulously, what was she doing?
Assumption number two: she’s left her car parked in the middle of the road while she goes to knock on someone’s door.
Had my lane of traffic continued to move at this point, I may not have seen what came next, and would have been left with the impression of an inconsiderate person who left her car parked in the middle of the road while she went to call on someone.
But the traffic in my lane remained stationary, and as I looked to the house she was heading for I saw a man’s head appear out of the ground floor window. He reached down towards the ground. Underneath the window I saw a small child, probably around three years old, in floods of tears, just picking herself up off the floor and reaching for the arms of the man, who might have been her father. On seeing the man and realising the child had help, the woman returned to her car.
She had seen what none of the rest of us had: she had seen a small child fall from a window and had stopped her car to go and see to the safety of that child.
Faith in humanity restored, and a timely reminder to me not to judge on first, (or second) assumptions.
Sometimes we will be missing a vital piece of the puzzle, sometimes information will continue to present itself, and sometimes there is more than one way to interpret a situation.
There are so many narratives in the world at the moment, it’s worth remembering that often there is no one truth.
Life is full of grey areas, and the journey is much more enjoyable when we’re open to the possibility of being wrong.
What about you? Have you ever misjudged a situation? When was the last time you were wrong about something?