Jumping to Conclusions: Leaping to Self-Limitation
“He’ll never change!”
“She’s a pill.”
“He’s a liar.”
“She’s no good.”
This morning I left my morning train as the sun crept up over the horizon. The clouds that the weather service said will dominate the sky had only just begun their invasion – gray bands of cloud the vanguard of the fleet moving in from the west. As the sun rose, the leading edge of the cloud bank was bathed in an orange, pinkish light that slowly spread across the underside until a vast area of the sky was glowing in beautiful, soft hues: red, orange, yellow and purple.
The sky changes constantly, but that’s really no surprise because everything else does, too. As Heraclitus said, one cannot dip their toe in the same river twice. The very continents on which we stand are moving. A topographical map of the world fifteen or twenty thousand years from now may look startlingly different than the map of the world today. Even the stars that exist for billions of years change over time. I’m sure that, as I have, you’ve heard that the starlight we see may have come from a star whose light was extinguished millions of years ago. Just like people, stars are born, grow, diminish and die. Just like people, the characteristics of their light will vary over time.
Yet we humans love to make conclusions about each other and ourselves. We love to call each other names and try to make the names stick: nerd, miser, fool, comedian, thief, philanthropist, low life, saint. We love to call ourselves names: Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Zoroastrian, atheist, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, etc. This is all fine – a person can be any of these things and often several things simultaneously. Looking closer, however, we may see that our conclusions about others and ourselves are limiting to us.
When we get here, we are immediately confronted with the problems of defining ourselves or being defined. Is it a boy or a girl? After we come to know the answer to that question, having accepted the fact of our gender, we seek to further define that item of identity for ourselves. What is a boy? What is a girl? Are they what they do? What differences are there, beyond the obvious? What about others of the same gender? What are the parameters of variation within the classification?
To help simplify things, we are taught first to categorize things as good and bad. Some things you do will make you a bad boy. Other things you do will make you a good girl. People who do bad things are bad people. People who do good things are good people.
Yet, can’t bad people occasionally do good things? And don’t good people, every once in a while, do something bad?
The problem is that few things in the physical existence are pure white or pure black. More often, things are a shade of gray. The good man has a secret pleasure. The virtuous woman has fantasies. The complex man may do much good, but some harm. The complex woman may nurture and create, yet may not correspond to the dominant ethical values of the day. Who are we to weigh the good and bad and make the decision, bad woman, good man, or vice versa?
Shades of gray is also an inaccuracy. People are never completely gray, though, like me, their hair might be. People have colors. They have skin color and eye color, the energy they radiate is a color, and they have other colors within, some public and some private. People are multi-colored in their individual, endless variety. Would you reduce a rainbow to monochrome? Of course not. Neither should you reduce your fellow human.
Conclusions are the Human Resources Department of the individual. They serve to reject, to weed out, to simplify choices.
“Don’t talk to him. He’s an idiot.”
“Stay away from her. She’s bad news.”
“They don’t think the same way we do.”
However, none of the above statements is ever completely true. A person of different abilities often holds a revelation about ourselves. A person is never completely bad. No one thinks the same as anyone else, ever.
Expand your acceptance to encompass the entire spectrum of the rainbow. See the whole person. Is there anything permanent there? Will they look the same in two years? Will they think the same an hour from now? Will they be the same one nanosecond from now? The answer is no. People change every moment; every moment they are different.
But aside from all of this, who do these conclusions really harm? We dismiss someone because of the conclusion we made about them and they are gone from our lives. Is this our loss or theirs? By stuffing individuals into convenient pigeon holes, are we limiting them, or ourselves?
It’s your physical existence. You decide.
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