August 22, 2014

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Assuming this is correct, assumptions are often wrong

Cynthia DewesDid you ever wonder about the obese lady in the grocery checkout line whose purchases are mainly potato chips and soda pop? Did you assume that she was a reckless overeater, a slob? And did the plot thicken when she paid for her order with food stamps?

Well, join the club. Like the rest of us, you made assumptions about someone you didn’t know based largely on scant evidence and prejudices. These probably included the notion that fat people are overweight because they eat too much of the wrong things, or that people on welfare are lazy cheaters.

Some of my dearest friends are on the far side of 200 pounds, but they are healthy folks who eat modest, nutritious meals. They exercise, read, participate in society and are not sitting slack-jawed with a bag of candy in front of the TV. And the food stamp people I know work hard but just need extra help.

We make assumptions about all kinds of things. Conspiracy theorists assume that the Government (capital “G”) is monitoring them at all times for sinister reasons, or that international bankers belong to a giant secret organization which rules world politics and economies.

On a more personal level, some people assume that their mothers-in-law or ex-wives or whoever are out to sandbag their relationships with husbands or wives, children, families. Inheritance and other money issues may contribute to the intensity of the assumptions.

Some people may assume that their inferiors at work are after their jobs, or that their bosses have favorites other than them. Kids may resent their siblings or their parents because they assume that favoritism is at work in the family. Parents, in turn, may assume that this child is always naughty, but this other child is goody two-shoes.

Food Nazis may assume that if the word “organic” is on a label, the food is wholesome, but if any suspicious chemical or synthetic ingredient is present, this food may ultimately damage or kill you. Some food advertisers may assume that the public is swayed by “professional speak” about a new product, while others may disguise something we’ve been eating for years as fresh and new.

Drug advertisers may do the same, apparently assuming that the public is interested in improving its health through chemistry. They produce a plethora of TV ads for drugs to treat unnamed maladies. They instruct the viewers to “ask your doctor” about Drug X, apparently assuming that doctors are clueless about what to give a patient until they hear about the TV product.

It seems to me that making certain assumptions is OK up to a point. We should assume that people are acting and reacting with us out of good motives. We should assume that we’re innocent until proven guilty, or that people will generally behave as they should. That is the Christian attitude, after all.

A member of a board I once served on told me that when we met he thought I was a sweet little lady who would be a pushover in our hearings. But when I opened my mouth, he realized that he’d underestimated me. I was, as he said, “OK.” Of course, I didn’t know what he thought of me until later.

And that’s the main point about assumptions: we should never, never act upon them until we’ve learned more about the person and the situation. Because, more often than not, our assumptions are simply wrong.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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