Thursday, May 21, 2009

Question Everything


No photoshopping - just a nicely textured surface on this car. Painterly, isn't it?

Optical illusions are a perfect example of the way we human beings live by assumption. We see what we expect to see, hear what we expect to hear, judge our experiences and make decisions based on a lengthy set of personal assumptions that are biological, cultural and genetic, though - perhaps unfortunately - mostly unconscious.

And so we make mistakes, lots and lots of mistakes, because assumptions often do not reflect "the truth."

Oops.

In Vietnam, we stupidly believed our American assumption that we were all powerful. We believed we were invincible - as unsinkable as the Titanic. We assumed we could do what the French, Chinese, Japanese couldn't, i.e. subdue Vietnamese nationalism. If we had done our homework, we could have tossed out the racist assumption that the Vietnamese were just a bunch of weak peasants, an idea that couldn't be more inaccurate. But then, if we had questioned our assumptions, maybe we would have taken the time to study their history. Imagine my head shaking back and forth. Oy vey.

In my own life I make decisions based on unexamined assumptions all the time. Don't you? Sometimes it's OK, sometimes I cause unintentional harm to others.

Trying to stay aware of all our assumptions simply is not possible. But we can question our motivations, we can examine the grid of our personal values. We can try to face the urge to stereotype others and maybe catch ourselves before we make too many mistakes. We can try. I'm trying, anyway. Wish me luck!


I wonder which president had a "pet" horse at the White House. Teddy Rooseveldt?

29 comments:

Barry said...

Me too.

Think of all the pain and misery a little doubt could cure.

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow. Well said!

willow said...

I like Barry's comment. Yes, I think we all make unexamined assumptions, unfortunately. As far as VN is concerned, "oy vey" is right.

Your first photo does look photo shopped! wow.

ellen abbott said...

I tell people I have strong opinions but that I am open minded. The older I get though, the less judgmental and more tolerant I get. I am more willing to realize I don't know the whole story.

I had a boss once whose favorite saying was...all assumptions are an error. He meant it as it applied to working in his book store but I try to apply it to my life in general.

mar azul said...

everything. all the time.

Joanne said...

I've always thought that everything matters, everything counts. It is a matter though of stopping and questioning, as you say, to get to the heart of so much. I'd definitely have assumed your first photo was touched up or edited in some way, and my assumption, without questioning, would have been wrong! Beautiful shot, btw.

Cyndy said...

I love optical illusions in photography that have at least two possible obvious interpretations and several more not so obvious ones. A lot of your photos have that quality. As far as opinions go, I try to put off having one for as long as possible because I get to learn more that way.

Bee said...

Did you ever read or see Graham Greene's The Quiet American? It beautifully illustrates how destructive assumptions can be . . . and I do think that it is an American tendency to be "overly sure" about one's opinions, despite the fact that they can be rooted in all kinds of ignorance. (I hate to bring up his name, but I always thought that one of George Bush's chief failings as a person and politician was his disdain for questions.)

I like the way you link your theme with the optical illusions of photographs.

Steve said...

It's impossible NOT to have assumptions. As you said, they help us navigate life. As long as we recognize them for what they are, and open ourselves to the fact that they may be wrong, we'll do OK.

deborah said...

of course we were as unsinkable as the Titanic

photograph is very impressionistic

love your new photo so much!

love you more

lakeviewer said...

Our actions occurr on an instinctual level, before we are actually conscious of what we are doing. There are studies out there by the following people: Dr.Libet, Dr. Wegner, Dr.Haynes.

If you google these folks in order, you'd get a series of studies about decision making processes. ( I'm not the doctor in my family. My husband is the researcher who keeps up with this stuff. I just borrow here and there and consume the stuff like ice-cream on a hot day.)

Joanna said...

The top photo is indeed painterly--and lovely. I fear America's assumptions about Afghanistan may also lead to trouble.

John Hayes said...

The considered study of history, of our previous mistakes & the mistakes of other nations/cultures that might be instructive seems to be woefully lacking in public policy--at least over the past few decades. Hoping this will turn around with a more enlightened administration.

tam said...

"white house pets" will be read differently by a south african, an american and someone who loves all animals, despite their fur colour.

THanks for sharing your latest passions, so passionately. love the painterly pic.

Carolyn said...

As the saying goes "when you ass-u-me, you make an ass of you and me"!
"oh vey" is right. Thank you for your thought provoking post and you passion to learn Reya.
Smiles

Lover of Life said...

I'm trying too.

Ronda Laveen said...

Don't you think the same history lessons apply from war to war? We need to get out of the wars we are currently in until we understand the people as clearly as we can. Be it country-to-country, being-to-being or soul-to-soul. And I totally agree with Delwyn's comment yesterday. The book drew you, the wall drew you, your past draws you back to continue unfinished business. Yeah!

Reya Mellicker said...

And with another connection with another very dear one from high school, the return to roots continues.

Honestly, I am blown away (including many assumptions - not all but many).

Lynne said...

Carolyn took my response right out of my mouth! Assumptions can cause all kind of trouble but we all do it.

I did think you'd applied an artistic filter to the first photo. I guess you did, really— A "Reya" filter! :)

Is that a game in the window? I want one!

Reya Mellicker said...

It's a display in front of the White House archives. Cute isn't it?

Merle Sneed said...

Your observations about human assumptions are why eyewitness testimony is so unreliable.

Reya Mellicker said...

Yes, Merle. What IS "reality" anyway? Your guess is better than most, is my guess.

Delwyn said...

Morning Reya,

The only way we can makes sense of the world is to use our prior experiences and limited knowledge as reference points for each new experience otherwise we would be facing and learning things afresh every single time.

So our bag of assumptions enable us to function in a more efficient way in the world but they must be tempered by discernment and a willingness to add to our own basic encyclopedia or understanding of life because it is just that - our own very limited repository -

and to do that we need to continually ask questions, keep an open mind and be prepared to accept the inexplainable and the unfathomable...acknowledging that the way we see and interpret life is just one way in millions...

Lisa said...

i am reminded of the old saying
" to assume is to make an ASS out of U and ME"

we all do it
sometimes being wary is a blessing xx

Amy said...

“It would make life much easier if I could have total faith and not question everything all the time, but I can't do it and I won't do it.”

I love that quote. People who charge in blindly on "faith" quite frankly scare me.

"Question everything." Very Zen. I keep that quote by the Buddha framed so I can be constantly reminded. I'm not in this life to take the easy ride!

lettuce said...

luck reya.

hello!

A Cuban In London said...

That was a very deep reflection. I loved this post. Most people (well at least over here in GB) assume that Americans are thick. yet, my experience of being around your folks is that they differ from individual to individual, just like Brits and Cubans. What a thoughtful and amazing read. Short and to the centre of the heart, like a well-meaning friendly dart.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Washington Cube said...

I do remember that Caroline Kennedy had a pony named Macaroni at the White House--a "gift" from LBJ. Of course, the Kennedy's would have ponies for their children. I was just reading an article about Ted Kennedy in Vanity Fair and how Caroline and the Kennedys assumed she would be handed that Senate seat in New York. I am sooooo glad she wasn't. I'm surprised she isn't moving to Massachusetts to take a shot at Uncle Ted's position when he's gone, but then she'd have to fight her cousin Joe, and Ted's wife.

Reya Mellicker said...

Yes, Cuban in London. The Brits are not fond of us, while we Americans are totally gah-gah over the Brits. It's an unrequited infatuation for us, but we are clueless enough that we don't really get it.

Thanks as always for your appreciations.