Lindy Hughes Pfeil
Let's spend summer banishing assumptions
Updated: Oct 8, 2022
The start of summer is always bittersweet because it means saying goodbye to my high school students.
Over the past five months, we have talked about dreams and fears, good and evil, free will and destiny, love and narcissism, truth and despair. They have shared their stories of exclusion, feeling unheard, and crushing sadness. And their stories of hope, love, and belonging.
They are so wise.
They understand that our life views start forming the day we are born. Our opinions and beliefs are shaped by our families, our cultures, and our experiences. And regardless of what has befallen us, we are always more than the sum of our privilege, our challenges, our successes, and our mistakes.
When they speak a different opinion to one that has just been spoken, they do so with respect, acknowledging that this is their truth, for now. That someone else’s truth – on the other end of the spectrum – is no less valid than their own. And that they can, and likely will, at some point, change their mind. Because that is the nature of being human. And curious. And having the strength of character to change.
Recently, we were talking about assumptions. Those little judgements we make subconsciously every day.
It’s easy to fall into the assumption trap: the by-product of having a brain wired to make split-second decisions to keep us safe. This was crucial when we encountered dinosaurs or warring tribes. Assuming they meant us harm, kept us alive. Today, the sound of a honking horn as we’re about to cross the road, fulfils the same function. We can assume danger is heading our way. And then take the necessary action to avoid it.
But it gets messy when it comes to people. Our brains make rapid decisions based on our past experiences. Someone’s clothing, voice or demeanour can trigger an assumption that is simply not accurate. Just because I’m a middle-aged white lady who wears dungarees, does not mean I love country music.
We talked about assumptions that had been made about us. Assumptions we’d made about others. And what, in this process, had got lost. While our brain is trying to put someone in a box, what are we not asking? Not opening ourselves up to? What questions, I asked the students, might give us some new insight? Greater understanding of one another?
Here are some of their responses:
Do you feel as though you have lost yourself?
Have you ever had your heart broken?
Do you sometimes put on a happy face when you actually feel completely broken inside?
Do you hide your feelings?
Have you ever been rejected by the people you most don’t want to lose?
Do you sometimes feel that a place does not belong to you?
Have you ever felt that someone did not believe you, even when you were telling them the truth?
What these questions do, is show us how little we really know about the people we cross paths with every day. They give us common ground, shared humanity, empathy.
I’m going to miss these students. How could I not? But I plan to keep them close by, taking their questions with me into summer. And when my label-making brain next rushes to make an assumption about someone, I’ll take a breath, and remind myself how little I know.
I wish you a wonderful summer, filled with love, laughter, new experiences and a cartload of shattered assumptions. Let me know how it goes.
*This was originally published in the July 2022 edition of The Beacon Newspaper.