You can’t judge a book by its cover.
Any avid reader certainly knows this to be true. A plain or poorly designed cover might wrap around a fantastic story. A beautifully designed cover might contain a boring, poorly written story. You have to look inside…but in order to look inside, you have to get past the cover. Not an easy thing to do sometimes, especially with people. We make assumptions, and those assumptions lead to decisions about how we interact with people.
I took a fantastic class in high school called Persuasion and Control. One of our units was aimed at helping us identify our assumptions – or prejudices – and move past them when unfounded. I remember one of the assignments well. At the top, it simply said, “Define WE.” Go ahead. Try it. When you use the term “we,” who do you mean?
Ready for the next part of the assignment? Define THEM.
Now think about the routines of your life. Where do you use the terms “we” and “them” and what impact might they have on your thoughts, attitudes and responses? Dig deeply. Look closely. This is important stuff. It’s affecting relationships.
A couple days later we got personal in class. The teacher asked what we believed about the “thems” in our school. Basically, students had the opportunity to voice their dislikes for cliques of which they weren’t a part. There was silence for several minutes.
Someone finally spoke. “All the cheerleaders are stuck up.”
I guess now would be a good time to tell you I was a cheerleader. I didn’t get defensive (well, maybe just for a moment), because the truth is I had the same thought of many cheerleaders I’d met. But I said, “What makes you think that?” Really, I meant for it to be calming, but let’s just say the temperature in our classroom skyrocketed from there.
I don’t remember everything that was said, but I remember the last few exchanges.
Me: What have cheerleaders done that make you think they’re stuck up?
Student: They don’t talk to me.
Me: Do you talk to them?
Student: No. Why would I set myself up to be judged by someone?
Me: I don’t know. I feel the same way. Maybe that’s why neither of us has spoken to each other.
Student: Maybe we’re more alike than I thought.
We make assumptions about people, and those assumptions aren’t all bad. We have to organize information, so we can make sense of more information. The fancy word for what your brain does is called assimilation. New information comes in and fits into the categories you already have. Until you take in information that doesn’t match. Then the categories have to shift in order to make sense. That’s called accommodation.
When has someone made an assumption about you that was incorrect?
When have you made an assumption about something that was incorrect?
You’ll likely interact with many people in the week ahead…not just face to face but through the internet, tv, radio and even stories you hear. Pay attention to the assumptions you make. Do they involve judgment or do you find yourself asking questions to gather more information?
When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his followers, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They answered, “Some say you are John the Baptist. Others say you are Elijah, and still others say you are Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus asked them, “And who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:13-16