Beware of assumptions

Tom Butcher

Assumptions are a dangerous thing to make. Conventional wisdom tells us this through the use of old clich‚s. Often, all that happens when we make an assumption is that we end up dead wrong, a wrong which is all the more hurtful or embarrassing for us having blindly believed it to be true.

But assumptions can be right as well; otherwise, we would never make them. Sometimes they can even act as a security measure-a “gut feeling” that something in a situation is just plain wrong. But, what is a “gut feeling?” I would submit that it is oftentimes just a subconscious acknowledgement of stereotypes that have been built up in us, perhaps unknowingly, perhaps even unwillingly, but nevertheless perpetuated by the society that loves to judge people by the first seven seconds of their acquaintance.

Two weeks ago, I published an article in StudLife detailing my simple dislike for clubbing. Not to be confused with my (perhaps contradictory) love of dancing, I rather felt that bars were superior because they offered greater possibilities for conversation. In the following issue of Student Life, a letter was published by one Bennet Goldstein, which accused me of being both sexist and homophobic. He found the evidence for these inked remarks, for the most part, in the subtext of what I had written-that is, not so much by what I had said, as by what I had not. This is always dangerous ground to tread on, but I eagerly embarked upon the journey myself. I wrote a scathing rebuttal and submitted it to the paper, and it was published a week ago today. In a brilliantly passive-aggressive manner, I rebuked the claims made by Bennet and explained my reasoning more thoroughly. I made explicitly sure to highlight that I was neither sexist nor homophobic. But, I had made an assumption as well. I had assumed that Bennet was an asshole, and my letter to the editor drips from every pore with this shallow-minded assumption. But I thought I was on top of the world. To quote one of my friends, reading my re-rebuttal was an “Oh, SNAP!” moment. I imagined myself to be involved in some sort of epic battle of right versus wrong and sub-text versus reality. Plus, I thought it was pretty cool that I had stirred up so much controversy with my freshman debut on the student newspaper. Then, everything changed.

That evening, I received an email from Bennet. I was thinking that perhaps he was trying to confront me in a more direct manner, but I was wrong. Bennet had been the bigger man and he wrote me a letter expressing his desire for conciliation and understanding. He said that his feelings had been hurt by my article and so he had gotten very defensive, but realized that his response had probably hurt my feelings as well. I don’t know if that’s quite the correct assessment, as I was more bemused than anything else, but on some level, he was probably right. In any case, I had been angry. I had therefore demonized Bennet in my mind. After reading the email, I just thought, “Goddamn it, he’s nice.” No longer could I maintain some sort of epic battle in my mind between good and evil. It had been much easier to just assume that this Bennet guy was an asshole who was undeserving of a polite response. Now that the truth was out, that Bennet was actually nice, I began to wonder who the true asshole was.

As I explained to Bennet, I’m not too big on extrapolating small events into gigantic life lessons, but this seems to be the sort of situation that warrants this treatment. I don’t want to try to paint some sort of rosy, hippie-esque picture of us no longer making assumptions, and then dancing underneath mango trees with laurels in our hair in our resulting exultation. That’s just not going to happen-and, as I said towards the beginning of this piece, assumptions can sometimes be both useful and correct. So, I guess my take-home message, if there must be one, is to be careful in the assumptions you make. I mean, Bennet thought I was homophobic and I thought he was a common douche bag, but we were both wrong. We had made asses out of both of ourselves.

Tom is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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