Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Singer with a Fat Voice

“Assumptions allow the best in life to pass you by.” ~ John Sales

Yesterday morning I was working on one of my sites while my daughter was drawing a picture beside me. Since I had turned on the sound on my laptop earlier to listen to a song, the soundtrack of the novel video trailer came on. Without even lifting her eyes from the paper, Morgan said: “I like that song mommy. Is that guy fat like a teddy bear?”
Caught by surprise at the random question, I asked her what she meant, so she looked up at the screen and said again: “Where is the guy who is singing the song? I think he is big like my teddy bear.”

Since the only images on the video are related to scenes in the novel and don’t show the song performer, her assumption gave me food for thought. Why would a four-year-old think someone is overweight just from hearing a voice in a video, if she had no visual trigger that would support that assumption? I showed her what the singer really looked like in another video, and she seemed surprised - the image she had conjured in her mind and the actual person didn’t match at all.

One of the greatest flaws of human nature is to assume facts before we even bother to check if our impressions are aligned with reality. We create a mental picture of someone and seal it in our mind with the fire of prejudgment, ready to jump to unsupported conclusions that are nothing more than shaky speculations.

The fact that a four-year-old was ready to prejudge someone’s appearance from the sound of his voice suggests that this type of behavior is a product of nature rather than nurture - to my knowledge nobody has ever taught my daughter that large men have throaty voices and small men don’t. If nature is at fault, it is twice as important to condition ourselves to never assume and prejudge, at least until we have gathered evidence to support our assumptions.

I believe this concept applies to most areas in our lives. Stereotyping leads to undesirable and unwarranted drama, and it explains nothing about the unique personalities of the people we encounter. When we meet anyone, we should only be clear on one thing: we know nothing about them, and prejudging an individual’s potential, character or lifestyle can only blind our ability to see the real person standing in front of us.

By conjuring a mental image we feel in control and less vulnerable to surprises. We are naturally inclined to categorize and label our experiences, and we are afraid to give strangers the benefit of a blank board, even if what we rationalize is not necessarily reality.

After watching the two videos, Morgan went back to her picture, not giving this matter any further thought, but I hope that some day – when the time comes for her to step out into the world – she will benefit from having learned that what we assume is not always what is.

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