I assume you think this blog is going to be all about my heroic actions in persuading a highly distressed individual to step back from the window sill/top of the bridge and reconsider their future. Well I am relieved to say I have never been in this situation and don’t think I’d be very good at it.
Actually I’m talking about conclusions and the assumptions we make that lead us to jump to them. I had an interesting example of this on the tube the other day. As most people who know me are aware, I am passionately pro Europe and have been spending much of my spare time volunteering with a cross-party group called ‘the European Movement in Wandsworth and Merton’. No it doesn’t easily trip off the tongue but hey..
So one day last week I spent some of the morning crafting a press release on our support for a crowdfunder to get people from the Highlands of Scotland to London for the March for Europe coming up on March 23rd. I sent the release out to our media contact list and then scrubbed up to meet the inspiring Rosena Allin Khan, MP for Tooting, at Portcullis House at Westminster. The aim was to thank her for her support for a People’s Vote and ask how we could help her going forward.
Feeling pleased with my activities, later that day I set off for my evening class on the tube, and there was a guy sitting opposite wearing a prominent pro EU badge. We exchanged a few pleasantries about how we felt about Brexit, and then he looked hard at me. ‘You should wear a badge too’, he admonished me sternly.
After all my efforts that day it took considerable effort not to punch him on the nose. Fortunately, at that moment I reached my station and got off the train, fuming. What made him think he had the right to tell me what to do? I’d given the best part of the day for THE CAUSE, and he thought could give me instructions. Yet another mansplainer, or was this one a manstructor?
But we all do it time after time. We make massive assumptions based on very little evidence:
‘Look at her letter! Can’t even spell.’ (Actually is dyslexic).
‘Why is that guy stumbling around in the street? Must be drunk’ (Actually suffers from a neurological complaint).
‘She’s wearing a headscarf – probably completely subjugated in her community.’ (Actually is running a women’s refuge).
‘He looks too smartly dressed to really need a food bank’ (Actually is on the way back from yet another unsuccessful job interview in the only items of clothing he owns that are not completely worn out.)
So as nothing is ever quite what it seems, and to end on a lighter note, the world of cinema is full of examples of the wrong assumptions leading to erroneous conclusions. The results are variously hilarious and terrifying.
- In The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin plays a Jewish barber who is confused with Adenoid Hynkel, tyrannical ruler of Tomania.
- In North by Northwest, Cary Grant accidentally identifies himself as a covert government agent, thereby kick-starting Alfred Hitchock’s dizzying cross-country race.
- Perhaps one of the funniest is Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman) is born a few doors down from Jesus Christ, a very unfortunate coincidence. He’s visited by three very confused wise men. Later, he’s summoned to appear before Pontius Pilate. And in Brian’s final identity crisis, thousands of wayward peasants mistake him for the King of the Jews.
It just goes to show, you can’t tell a book by looking at its cover.