Thursday, May 21, 2009
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."
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?