28 June 2010

First Impressions

How often do you look at a person and make assumptions about them based on their appearances or other information that is readily available to the naked eye. I know that I am guilty of this myself. It is probably a good thing to make quick judgements for safety reasons. It's wise to make a quick call about whether we are safe and to act on that. I think that we don't want to stop there. We should learn that sometimes we're wrong.

Recently I was at the hairdresser and we were chatting and she was telling me about overweight people. People who know me know that I am not exactly Twiggy material (Paris Hilton for the younger folk). I'm a heavyset woman. Getting back to my story, she then told me that she would never hire a heavy woman in her salon and I asked her why. She told me that big people are lazy and they couldn't get out of their own way and we did go on to talk about the pressure to "appear" a certain way.

The larger message in what she was saying is not uncommon today - people are very quick to judge. We all know people who are lazy - big people, small people, men, women, children - it's life. But to assume that big people are lazy by virtue of their size is stigma buzz. We all know big people who are hard workers but that's not the image that a lot of people automatically see.

I've been guilty of this type of judgement in my own life. Vision loss interfered with what was to be a promising career. I struggled with calling myself "disabled"regardless of how I tweaked the phrase. My image that was ingrained in me was of what we historically said and did about the disabled and I was not "one of them". I pictured a blind person as a "basket weaver" not as a productive member of society. It is not my proudest admission . I'm even ashamed of how I used to think. But I do know where it came from because I'm an intelligent woman and I've taken the time to "learn" differently and now I have the skill to challenge my own assumptions.

The biggest tragedy is not in making assumptions about people - don't beat yourself up over it. The biggest tragedy is in believing and acting on those assumptions without proper evidence.. The assumptions I'm thinking of are usually harmful. I am now a representative of many stigmatized groups, single mother, overweight, blind/disabled and the list goes on.

It's tough to live in a world that judges but the world judges - so we build defences against that but how nice it is to take down those defences - to be judged by who we are, not the label we hold. I invite you readers to pay attention to the assumptions you are making about people and whether you're then allowing the evidence to disprove you or are you only accepting evidence that proves your point. Which is it?