Friday, 4 January 2013

Dealing with the preconceptions of others

We all make assumptions and form preconceptions about the incredibly complex world in which we live. It is the only way to navigate such a world. However, some people don’t then go on and question whether such assumptions are valid in a given situation. These people live at the surface of their awareness.

For example, my tremor was particularly prominent one afternoon. I went into a shop and the person behind the counter said to me, “are you feeling cold, sir?” Maybe I missed the joke but I decided to be honest, so I said, “no, I’ve got Parkinson’s disease.” A flood of apologises emerged from the person. He wished me a good evening and I said, “I will and I’ll warm up too!” A little bit of self-deprecating humour showed that his supposed superior response to my tremor was totally misplaced. Maybe I taught him something that day.

Another example I’ve encountered is when people equate my physical disability with my level of intelligence and talk…really…slowly…to…me. I happen to have a doctorate (DPhil) in Genetics from Oxford University so I think I understand what you are saying! Such “do…you…under…stand?” people should assume their listener does understand and then, if the need arises, modify the assumption.

A far harsher form of preconception you may encounter is prejudice, which can be defined as judging people (usually negatively) based on physical characteristics or ethnicity or disability. I believe such a judgement is absurd. We were thrown into the world in a particular state when we were born (Heidegger calls this our “thrownness”). Nobody is responsible for their thrownness; we didn’t choose whether we were male or female, had dark or light skin, were susceptible to Parkinson’s or not etc. Therefore judging a person’s thrownness is an empty judgement; the judgement doesn’t apply to the person being judged. Indeed, it’s a judgement about nobody. Judgements should be made on the basis of who people are, not what they are.

I feel sorry for people who live their lives without empathy and self-awareness.

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