Tuesday, November 5, 2013

You Know What They Say About Assumptions, Right?

As Miami Dolphins player Jonathan Martin walked off the team and his teammate Richie Incognito is suspended amid hazing and bullying allegations, I've seen a lot of people asking how a 315-pound man can be bullied.

The assumptions tied up in these statements astound me. Not only is this man's body size and type being used as a proxy for his ability to withstand a mentally abusive situation, but these people are also assuming that just because someone has the physical ability to aggressively stand up to his/her bully that they must take that action.

It is, in my mind, very similar to asking how someone in a mini skirt could be raped. Instead of holding perpetrators of violence and abuse accountable for the environments they've created, we're holding those living within those crafted environments accountable for not getting out of them.

It's not the only place I've seen assumptions flying lately.

A man left a cruel note on a BMW (with a handicap tag) parked in a handicap spot at the gym scoffing that he would "like to see [the driver's] wheelchair." Since the driver was there to play wheelchair rugby, he could easily have obliged, but why should he have to justify his existence (or ability to buy a nice car) to some passer-by?

Employees at Barney's assumed that young black patrons couldn't possibly afford the merchandise they were buying. 

Scary Mommy has a post about a food drive at her child's daycare. One of the other parents scoffed that "those people" wouldn't know how to cook quinoa anyway, implying that the drive was a waste of good food to unrefined palates. The author had previously used the food pantry to get her family through some lean times, and the woman had no idea what kind of assumptions she was making about "those people" to their face.

We're told all the time not to judge a book by its cover, not to make assumptions, not to think we know the whole story from a glance. But we do it anyway. We do it because the brain likes simple categories. We do it because if we can put "those" people into simple boxes we don't have to question our other assumptions like what kind of culture our NFL advertising dollars are supporting, what kind of resources we aren't giving to people who use wheelchairs, why someone might be willing to spend a huge portion of their paycheck on designer clothes, or what kind of food people in our own communities can't access.

We do it because it is easier.

Challenge yourself and others to see beyond the simple story. It is almost never complete.


  1. My sister has a handicapped placard and needs it. She is young, 19, and had some older gentleman say to her "now how come you get to park there? You look healthier than me!" to which she said "Yeah? Well appearances can be deceiving...."

  2. Nice read! I like the suggestions.