You know what they say about assuming
It makes an “Ass” out of “U” and “Me.” That was one of my dad’s favorite lessons growing up. Whenever a situation went south and we complained about fault lying in unmet expectations, “Well, I assumed that…,” Dad would pull that gem of a phrase out of his pocket to remind us that nothing can be assumed and when you stand on assumptions, you will likely fall. That phrase has always stuck in my brain because my dad has never been one to use curse words, literally never in front of us that I can recall, and “ass” was the closest I ever heard him get to one. It made me giggle, so it stuck in my head. Not to mention the fact that he was always infuriatingly right in using it.
Another of his favorites was “Behind the ‘at.’” If you know me to be a grammar Nazi, you can blame my dad for often choosing to stop us in the middle of a frantic search for something such as “Where are my shoes at?” “Where is my book at?” to say “Behind the ‘at.’” It was always a most inopportune yet brain-burning moment to teach the grammar lesson to never end a sentence with a preposition. We literally had to restate the question for him to answer us. Talk about a grammar Nazi! It was very effective. In fact, it is making me uncomfortable typing those sentences now and not correcting them. But, I digress.
I’ve seen quite a few “U” and “Mes” making “Asses” out of themselves in recent weeks on social media. It makes me sad to watch, but I also get it. There is so much assumption involved in finding our happy place amidst the chaos that is our political platform right now. We just want to be happy. We just want to feel confident that the foundation of our chosen team is strong, virtuous and valid. We want to believe that the players that we most associate with are the good ones. The truthful ones. The right ones.
In our present-day media overload we hear a lot of things; so many things, in fact, that it is fairly impossible to know which things are the right things. We are left having to assume some things in order to come to a conclusion about where the truth lies, and we are prone to filter all of the things through the sieve of our foundational beliefs, flawed though that sometimes may be. And sometimes, there are so many things for us to take in around a particular issue that we choose to only take in the things that feel comfortable to us, attempting to narrow down the filtering process. Understanding and assimilating all of the things can be exhausting. No wonder we are so angry! While it is good for us to hold core beliefs we must always be willing to discover new angles through the perspective of others. It is a very big picture we are looking at and there is no way we can see all of the parts of it from where we stand.
This need for varying perspective is the very reason that I believe that we must get back to a place where we first assume that a perspective is valid and respectable until and unless it has been properly vetted and analyzed to be proven otherwise.
Some of you got mad at me for what you thought I was saying in my “That’s what she said” column. I apparently led some to understand that I was opposed to the concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” that I was suggesting that the constitutional protection of the right to a fair trial should be ignored and that the accused should be punished based purely on the accuser’s story in cases of sexual assault. That is not at all what I was saying. My point was that these two great concepts are promised to both sides of the story in our country, that persecuting the accuser before an examination of the details is just as unconstitutional as persecuting the accused without a fair trial.
Ceteris Paribus is a Latin phrase that means “all other things being equal,” the idea that if all other factors are the same, then this. If we assume equal rights to be considered “innocent until proven guilty” for both sides in a sexual assault claim then an accurate and careful consideration of the facts can be utilized to determine the truth. If we prefer to assume some combination of information that makes us most comfortable, in either direction, and conclude our truth without a fair consideration, then shame on us. We are certainly making asses of ourselves in that case.
We do not trust easily these days. It is hard to trust the powers that be to truly have the best interest of the country at heart because we’ve seen that proven otherwise so many times. Our system is flawed, without a doubt, and we must find a way to solve the problems that we see before us. But taking that mistrust out on each other by assuming horrible things to the right or to the left and projecting those assumptions onto the larger or smaller screen is a horrible precedent for finding solutions. Gone are the days when we could blissfully ignore the grotesque minutia of how the governmental sausage is made, and we must remain vigilant in holding our leaders to a higher standard in those details, no doubt. But it is essential to the process that we be open to the possibilities that exist in the real world and guard against letting our assumptions get in the way of seeing new things. Listen and assume that something could be true until it is proven that it is not. Let’s learn to respect each other so we can avoid looking like asses.
Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.