Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Switch Flipped

Once a person has decided how they’re going to interact with you, it can be difficult to change. Changing it demands a degree of aggression

Man, I stumbled across that quote on this blog and it really struck me. Seriously, it was one of those "aha" moments where somebody verbalizes what you've already known intuitively, but never expressed so succinctly. For me, those moments are typically jumping off points for blogs. Here we go.

1. We all assume.

2. We all are forced to overcome other people's assumptions.

3. Thus, our very human existence is rooted in a never-ending cycle of aggression.

4. Depending on how often erroneous assumptions are made about you, you may constantly be forced to decide between a position of submission or debilitating aggression.

Let's explore.

I think all of us can admit that we make assumptions on a daily basis. It's how we organize the world and simplify our thinking. Assumptions allow us to sort and use large amounts of new stimuli.

That said, most of our assumptions are horribly wrong. That's inevitable given the fact that they are rooted in our individual realities, and thus are often based on incorrect facts. Many of us also make assumptions based on propaganda spread through a variety of sources. There is a reason the old cliche states: When you assume, you make an ass out of "u" and "me".

The thing is, assumptions are unavoidable, and honestly, necessary. They can serve a useful purpose if we know the proper amount of weight to give to our stereotypes, prejudices and assumptions. Sadly, most people DON'T.

Which is why all of us work regularly to combat assumptions. A friend of mine went to Whole Foods the other day. At my urging she was checking to see if the store carried "chia seeds." I was curious to see if the product had worked its way to the mainstream, and how much it would cost.

My friend told me that she diligently checked the seed aisle, then approached three employees having an animated conversation. She waited patiently for one of them to acknowledge her presence and ask if she needed help. She said she didn't want to interrupt their obviously animated discussion about one of the employees working while drunk.

Finally, she said "Excuse me" and asked about the chia seeds, noting that she had checked for them and couldn't find them. One clerk said nothing and immediately left. Another just looked confused. The third clerk got the "stank" face and said "What?"

My friend, taking this an invitation to re-state her question, did so a bit more concisely. Something along the lines of "Chia seeds. Do y'all sell them? I checked and didn't see any." The clerk replied with a bit of an attitude, "Well, we must not have them."

Clearly, this was not the greatest example of customer service or decorum, but I think it was a great example of the premise of this blog. Granted this is a total assumption, but I think that the clerk viewed my friend as an "other." All three clerks were black, but they were black workers in Whole Foods.

My friend was a black woman customer in an overpriced, health food store frequented by mainly white clientele. Her surroundings, plus her inquiry about an exotic food product, most likely led to the assumption that she was one of those "bourgie, stuck up black people who think they are better than people who WORK in Whole Foods." Thus, the clerk, acting on her own erroneous assumption, about what she thought was my friend's erroneous assumption, responded with quite a bit of aggression.

Hope that didn't confuse y'all.

The thing is, this happens all the time. Black people are often accused of being overly aggressive. Yet, we all know that black people regularly have erroneous assumptions made about them. There are assumptions about our education, our intellect, our looks, our jobs, our families and our status as law-abiding citizens, to name a few. We are constantly deciding whether it's "worth it" to combat these assumptions and deal with the hassles associated with being viewed as aggressive, or to just take our medicine and let things slide. It's the ultimate lose/lose.

I'm not saying that black people are unique in this regard, just noting that we have a special appreciation for this daily battle. We understand that whenever you attempt to combat a person's erroneous assumptions, you run the risk of being labeled aggressive and angry. People don't like being corrected.

They don't like their viewpoints being challenged, no matter how simplistic or idiotic those viewpoints may be. Some folks handle disagreement better than others, but typically when people are caught in an error, or they are operating on some long-held assumptions, there will be a conflict if attempt to foster change. People like how they view the world and the people who inhabit the world. Changing those viewpoints means more work and, often, very little tangible reward.

Folks will view your attempts to correct them as aggression, and thus respond with aggression. That in turn ramps up your aggression level and the whole situation spirals out of control fairly quickly unless someone is willing to submit.

And we all know submission is a bad word these days, just like aggression.

I think it's important for all of us to remember that we are both the victims and the perpetrators when it comes to assumptions. We must understand that many of us develop views about other people without enough information, and thus our views are likely wrong.

I think it's even more important to realize that just because somebody challenges one of your assumptions does not mean you have to view it as a form of aggression. You have a choice. You can view it as a form of assistance. Honestly, we need to practice the same patience for other folks that we want people to practice with us.

Submission in the right situation is the best weapon.



Darth Whitey said...

Outstanding, all true, so true.

CNu said...

the best weapon is situational awareness and an unanticipated backup piece.....,

Deacon Blue said...

You're right, that is a huge "a ha" item, and I haven't thought of it in those terms. I'm an awfully easygoing guy myself, and I take things like criticism well, but I can see how even I react with aggression over things like being corrected, or having my assumptions challenged at times.

No wonder it's so had for people to "just get along."

LisaMJ said...

I swear you peek into my mind b/c you seem to often think about what has been on my mind at the same time, though you always capture it and articulate it better than I do. What you say is so true. And I have trouble implementing it in my life, and I get it intellectually better than I get it emotionally or viscerally.

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Big Man said...


In that video, when did dude strike the killing blow? Also, why was he fighting with a stick? I agree with your point, but I'm curious about that clip.


It's amazing we haven't all killed each other yet.


Thank for the compliment. When I read that quote, I had to write about it. I was compelled.


You can add my blog.

CNu said...

Kojiro was famous for using a nodachi which he called Clothes Rod.

Musashi carved a bokken out of a boat oar and used it to offset the strategic advantage accruing to Kojiro from his blades exceptional length.

Musashi pioneered the two-sword school of fencing. When they closed, he unexpectedly drew his wakizashi and mortally cut Kojiro.

There is another famous duel with an old monk called Baiken who used sickle and chain. In this duel, Musashi once again unexpectedly drew his wakizashi - but in this duel he threw it and mortally cut Baiken. He was scolded by the Monk Takuan who had taken it upon himself to help polish Musashi's soul - for his ruthless use of this unexpected fencing strategy.

Big Man said...


Only you would have written the two comments you wrote complete with video and wikipedia citations.

Thanks for the information.

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Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Wonderful post. Old people catch a lot of hell too. I was thinking about seeing how servers would respond to my dad when he got old and his hearing wasn't good and the hearing aid didn't fit well. They assumed he was a doddering old guy, and couldn't be more wrong.

I've the same assumed of the handicapped; and especially feel sorry for what those in wheelchairs have to put up with. I used to be an idiot too when young and around the handicapped, and don't know what incident made me see the light, but I'm glad it happened. Maybe it was reading about Stephen Hawkings. His work is still over my head to read his entire books.

If anything I've learned, it's that even if there's 75% about a person's ideas or style that I don't like, there's 25% that I do, and that's the part I can learn from and enjoy. Once I figured that out, my whole world opened up to being able to connect with many other people.

Raving Black Lunatic