A couple of faces acknowledge you, but one man stares straight ahead.
Next morning, they’re all there again. This time, you smile and raise a hand. That same guy ignores you, but someone else waves in return. So, you feel quietly good about bringing some warmth to someone else’s day.
When that guy again fails to acknowledge you the next day, you feel a bit ticked. What a jerk. I’m just trying to be friendly.
Later you feel a bit guilty. Maybe he’s going through a really hard time. Perhaps his wife just left him, or his daughter’s got cancer, or he has been told he is going to lose his job. So you pray for him and them, and you feel better about yourself.
Next day you smile a bit bigger, but still nothing. There’s a flicker of irritation, but you swallow it. What if he’s on the autism spectrum, perhaps? You pray for him again, determined to smile even bigger tomorrow, and feel quietly good again.
In the morning you’re running a few minutes late and the bus is pulling up at the stop. Rats; you’re not going to get the chance to offer that caring smile again.
As the group rises from the bench to board, you notice the man who’s ignored you reach for a white stick tucked down by his leg, while the person next to him reaches for an elbow to help him up.
The point of this little tale? A reminder that perception may be reality, but it’s not always the truth.
In his “Rethinking Thinking” TED Talk, Trevor Maber illustrates how we all carry around with us an invisible “ladder of inference.” Namely, the unconscious steps taken as we interpret our interactions with others. The lesson: if we don’t consider each rung in the process of how we make sense of what happens around us, we might get it wrong.
I wonder: How many times do we misread situations? How often do we react without pausing to consider that we maybe haven’t really seen clearly? Or perhaps that it’s not the other person’s fault that they haven’t seen things the way we believe they should?