Not that long ago, when we wanted to find out how to get somewhere we pulled over and asked for directions. Or not; we got hopelessly lost and drove in circles.
My car’s navigation system always makes wrong assumptions about downtown L.A. Every time I’m driving through the spaghetti of freeway interchanges near downtown, she and I have words. She tells me to exit onto surface streets and then onto another freeway a few blocks away, or sometimes the same freeway one exit later.
Or she takes me the long way around, asserting that to get from the Santa Monica Freeway (aka, the 10 eastbound) to Interstate 10 eastbound I need to take the 110 to the 101 to the 5 and then back to the 10. I could, but I could also just stay on the 10. Even if it means slowing down for traffic.
In other words, I have a choice. I can take directions or not. I can trade off sitting on the I-10 if it’s a parking lot for the promise of 5 minutes gained by a little inconvenience or risk. Ultimately, if I pause or if I don’t listen, the navigation system will recalibrate.
When dealing with people, we need to sometimes pause and take a second look before we continue. Sometimes we need to recalibrate.
Sometimes people who should know better still make assumptions about others that – instead of highlighting their mental superiority or gimlet eye – reveal their ignorance.
For example, Dr. Jones is a professor at a private university. Apparently his education, tenure, and the fact that he can Google – entitle him to be a sarcastic pompous asshat with most people – except the ones he considers so far below peers that he can be casually patronizing.
He’ll write a scathing, bombastic email peppered with multisyllabic words underscored by a signature that occupies 10 lines of screen real estate, including the fact that he won an award for something. This is supposed to impress.
A few hours later, he writes an (apparently) friendly email signed with his first name to someone else. The recipient and the signature tell the story. The recipient’s job – administrative, not executive. The assumption: “My intellectual equal would not hold a support job.” The signature: “Sent from my IPhone” in Spanish. A completely wrong assumption of ethnicity based on the recipient’s name which he feels entitles casual familiarity. It does not.
My point is that it’s easy to tell ourselves that our quick assumptions makes us look clever or informed. Instead, leaps to assumption reveal our ignorance or our biases.
Sometime we have to overrule the mental GPS. There are times when jumping to that conclusion, leaving our homework undone, or trying to save five minutes now can cost us dearly in trust capital.
Whether navigating streets or navigating people, let’s check our impulsivity. Let’s check our tendency to judge another, whether that judgment affects our words or – more importantly – silently directs our actions.
It is my honor to hold a leadership role in a global volunteer organization working to improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment. In Soroptimist, our dream programs are designed to give a hand, not a handout, to women and girls who have already started turning their lives around. The actions we take as representatives of this organization come from a place, not of charity, not of superiority, but of respect. We feel only respect for another human being who walks beside us – not behind us or below us – in the journey of life.
Navigating any person-to-person interaction means treating the other person – no matter what their station – with respect. With appreciation. Without bias, condescension, or rudeness. We are all on the same level as human beings, no matter what we wear, where we came from, what our jobs are, what alphabet soup does or does not follow our names, or titles do or do not precede them.
Just like we don’t have to accept a route to a destination because we know it’s just one of a million ways to get there, let’s not decide there is just one story about someone we don’t know. Let’s pause to gather facts before writing another’s story and using our account instead of facts to color our interactions.