Saturday, January 9, 2010

Preconceptions: More Than Just Cheap Wine and Faulty Condoms

Yesterday I posted question on a website asking people to think of five U.S. Presidents. I then went on to postulate that one of the five was almost certain to be Honest Abe Lincoln, even going so far as to bet that Abe made it into the top three. (I don't want to go into the whole point of the essay here though, if I do say so, it was a lovely piece of writing, choc-a-block with nouns, verbs AND punctuation and should you be interested, can be found here:

As it turns out, it was fortunate for me that I did not put actual money on this bet as only one person had Lincoln even in their top five. (The results seemed to skew towards more contemporary presidents, what that means may be explored in some later blog.) As a result, I have come to learn a rather harsh lesson; not everyone thinks as do I.

I try to be aware of my preconceptions. I know that I have a tendency to assume, unless otherwise informed, that people posses traits similar to my own. For instance, should someone tell me they'd recently given birth and give me no other details I would naturally assume that their new child was a white, somewhat dumpy male in his early thirties who was disappointed with the newer seasons of The Simpsons but not yet willing to write them off. (I'm joking of course, oh, but we do have fun, don't we? Yes, we do.)

But I do tend to assume. As a right handed person, when I see someone who I did not know was left handed writing with their left hand, I'm generally surprised enough to comment. "Oh," I typically say in the genial manner I have of saying thing, IT'S GENIAL DAMMIT, "you're a southpaw?" (I say "southpaw" because I'm a fan of the film Rocky as I have preconceived you are as well.)

But these preconceptions are harmless enough. I can't imagine someone being hurt because I think Lincoln is among their top five presidents or I'm surprised at their manner of writing. It's the other preconceptions that I try, and admittedly sometimes fail, to curtail.

For instance, I am not one to shy from profanity (The Hell you say? No it's true.) I believe that words only have the power that we give them and I refuse to fear language simply because it may invoke images of a saucy or unsavory nature. (Of course some words have a history which transcends them from simple communication to symbols of hate, pain, suppression and those I do avoid.) But I know that some people hold strong opinions about such words and I try not to use language which might offend them when other words will suffice. Like I said, I'm often unsuccessful in this endeavor.

I'm hesitant to invoke the name of Dr. Phil, I don't think he'll add a lot of credibility to my arguments and there's a reason I refer to him as a guilty pleasure (I mean really, where do they find these people and why are they all so willing to say this stuff on air?) But he has made one point that I find very accurate. It's all about expectation. To use his analogy, if I give you something to eat and tell you it's salty, even if it's the saltiest thing you've ever tasted, you can pretty much handle it. But, if I give you something and tell you it's salty and it turns out to be even mildly sweet, you're going to have a strong reaction because you were prepared for the salty flavor. We base our preconceptions on our experiences and then expect that everyone has shared these same experiences. As it turns out, not everyone grew up in a small, North Carolina town called Hayesville, been the second of four kids and spent much of their childhood very involved with their community theater. I know, I was shocked as well.

Ultimately, I guess I'm saying that I thought I had this whole preconception thing under control but, as my presidential inquiry pointed out, maybe I have a ways to go after all.

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