My mum once told me the story of how, during the early years of her marriage, a friend of her friend had expressed concern over her “apparent” childless state. My mum’s friend had stared at her with a mixture of shock and amusement. “She has three kids already,” she announced to this individual. It was their turn to be surprised; they had had no inkling that my mum had even one kid, let alone three. They had been so certain of their impression that if the new information wasn’t from one who was so close to my mum, they would have doubted it was true.
Two senior colleagues once asked if I knew my way around the kitchen. It wasn’t so much about the question but the manner in which it was asked. Their facial expressions revealed they didn’t expect me to be anywhere near dexterous when it came to making meals. And they are not the only ones who have asked me this question. So much so that it had me wondering if one’s looks had any bearing on their culinary abilities.
A former colleague was quite the fashionista. She looked flashy—had an affinity for loud colours—big hair and red lipstick. Throw her fair skin and voluptuous hips to the mix, and the recipe for the poster wild child was complete. Many deemed her unapproachable. Her sophistication was the barrier. It wouldn’t even be far-fetched to suggest she was dating some wealthy man or politician who funded her lifestyle.
But those of us who were a little closer to her knew better—Amina (real name withheld) was shy and quite reserved. In fact, one had to tease her into talking. She was far from the wild or condescending personality her outward appearance seemed to suggest.
Personally, I haven’t met many people who are as down-to-earth and respectful as this lady, yet, not a few people perceived her otherwise.
How many times have we adjudged a person loose or arrogant or wasteful or stupid without actually getting to them or their reason for making certain choices? Our notions are often the opposite of reality but even when we suspect this might be the case, we would rather dig in, than explore a broader view of things.
It’s why we think every unmarried woman of a certain age must either be too choosy for her own good or is given to the wayward life, and an older unmarried man must be infirm in the nether regions. When they tell us they just haven’t found the right one, we feign empathy but sneer in disbelief behind them.
As a society we condemn misfits; no, not the dregs like street urchins or vagabonds. The ones we consider embarrassments are single mothers and divorcees and the unemployed. We do not care for their story; whether they left a toxic marriage to save their lives or were rendered jobless because they aren’t cut out for office politics.
Our instinct is always to see people through our tunnel vision.
Anytime I hear unsavoury news about a person, I make a mental note to dig deeper if they are within my sphere of contact or give them the benefit of the doubt if they are unconnected to me. This reasoning stems from the realisation that there’s always a possibility that the general perception of or information relating to a person may be far from reality.
Secondly, I would love them to hold the same position if our roles were reversed.
Assumptions and presumptions emanate from uncertainty. With this in mind, it only makes sense to consider the possibility that a bunch of things we think we know is erroneous.
Science is a quintessential example; it is a field that continues to debunk myths and earlier theories. Every day, there’s a development that challenges the veracity of the familiar. Outcomes that shock and spin us in a new direction. Bottom line: only a few things are as they seem or fail to evolve.
Even if you feel you are in a position to speak about a person, you must also recognise that they have a right to grow and morph into a better version of themselves. That girl you swore would amount to nothing owing to her nonchalance towards education became a business mogul. What’s more, she never had to compromise her values to achieve this— instead —she leveraged her innate talent and skill.
A bully doesn’t always have to be one. A divorcee wasn’t necessarily cantankerous while they were married, they might be the victim of a violent partner. All straight people do not despise gay people and extroverted personalities are not exactly as confident as they appear.
The assumption of knowledge can be likened to the danger of a single story: it is often shallow, judgemental, and myopic.