She was a pretty blonde, maybe in her late 20s, early 30s. He was a handsome middle-aged man. The baby they passed back and forth was adorable, a little dark-haired girl dressed in very girly pink, obviously well cared for, obviously cherished.
The trio made a lovely scene, sitting a few rows ahead of me at Mass on a recent Sunday. But, true confession, I found myself silently muttering to myself something along the lines of: “Uh huh, there goes another man my age marrying a woman 20 plus years younger.”
When I saw them again a few weeks later, I stopped to comment on how pretty the baby looked, attributing her clothes to the mother. “I’d be surprised if I found out you bought them,” I said to the man, who I thought was the child’s father.
He, explained the young blonde, was the baby’s grandfather.
We all make them, of course. Sometimes, like this one, they are harmless. Sometimes, they can land us – or someone else affected by them – in hot water.
Personally, I don’t like people who don’t know me, who have no idea about who I am under the surface, or who are intent on stereotyping others to make assumptions about me. As someone who has battled an almost lifelong weight problem, I’ve “enjoyed” more than my share of assumptions. It fascinates me how some people react differently to me today – almost 85 pounds lighter than I was a few years ago – than they used to. Do they assume I am a “better” person because I am a lighter person? I have to wonder.
What really bothers me, though, is that I find I make assumptions about others more often than I should.
Last year, I stopped at my neighborhood gas station and asked the attendant, who was having a conversation on his cell, for $10 of gas, pretty much all the cash I had on me. He came back a few minutes later, phone finally removed from his ear, telling me I owed him maybe half again more.
I was not happy, and I was not about to put his mistake on my credit card. After letting him know I was not pleased, more gently than I wanted to, I told him I’d pay him the next time I was in.
“Honestly,” I thought, “if he had been doing his job instead of talking, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Part of me really didn’t think I should have to pay for his mistake, but I returned a short time later and gave the man the difference. His eyes started filling up. On my earlier visit to his station, he explained, he had been on the phone with his daughter in India, whose husband had just died. I had thought he was being unprofessional when in reality he was comforting his daughter so far away.
Assumptions. They prevent us from getting to know people as they really are. They build walls and encourage us to turn our backs on others, often people who may need our compassion or who could enhance our lives.
My Cousin K, who is as feisty as she is smart and pretty, battles a host of health problems that I have no doubt would figuratively and literally cripple a weaker person. By and large though, all of those disabilities are “hidden” — she walks unassisted, she speaks without any hesitancy, she looks – on the surface – to be a “healthy” person.
So maybe it’s no surprise the number of people who have questioned her about parking in a handicapped spot, even though she has decals. She’s had a few interesting conversations with some of those people – I’m astounded about what they say to her – and at least one that was both infuriating and hysterical. They see her and see what they believe is a healthy person and are outraged at her parking in a reserved spot. I see her, know she’s not healthy and that she would love to be able to walk a half mile into a store instead of park in those blue-rimmed spaces.
Assumptions. They can cause us to hurt people, insult them. They are, in the end, a horrible form of being judgmental.
Years ago, I was writing an article about a teenage rap group. I walked into the session, took one look at the girls before they started speaking and saw in their faces the girls I avoided in high school – the ones who showed too much skin, wore too much makeup, maybe had “reputations.” I was a “good girl,” and I wouldn’t hang with those girls.
Then I started listening to their stories, to the sexual assaults by a mother’s boyfriend or someone else. My heart cracked in that rap group. I walked out angry, angry at the men who victimized those young women and at the family members who didn’t hear their cries. I walked out, too, disappointed in my younger self and wondering about my flashier high school classmates – had they simply been making their fashion statement or were they too suffering at someone else’s hands.
Assumptions. They devalue the people about whom we make them. They lessen who we are as well.
Patricia Quigley is a freelance writer and member of Incarnation Parish, Mantua.