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ASSUMPTIONS: “Discrimination – formulating opinions about others…based on their assumed characteristics."

Movie quote from: Philadelphia (1993) – Joe Miller (Denzel Washington)

philadelphiaYoung children see the world with open eyes, observing each circumstance for what it is.  As we age, we make more assumptions about things, based on prior information or experience.  Gobs of assumptions are made daily about people who align with various cultural, religious, ethnic, and/or sexually-oriented groups.  The inhumanity of these assumptions is examined in the film Philadelphia, the story of a lawyer dealing with the bigotry of his employers.      

Everybody makes assumptions.  We call on our prior experiences to quickly deal with emerging issues.  Assumptions are efficient but inevitably inconsiderate acts.  They miss the unique realities of each new circumstance we face or individual we meet.  Assumptions contribute to misunderstandings, sloppy science, poor hiring/promotions, polarized perspectives, fear-based bigotry, and inhuman decisions.  Still, assumptions dominate the day in most people’s lives.   

In the movie Philadelphia, Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) overcomes his own assumptions and those of his friends to defend Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), a man whose meteoric law career is suddenly terminated when his firm suspects he is dying of AIDS.  Rather than speak directly to Beckett about his disease, company leaders make backroom assumptions regarding his moral character and life choices.  Fired on fabricated events, Beckett sues the company for wrongful dismissal.  It is a revealing and ultimately unfulfilling trial filled with bigotry and butt-covering behavior.   

Philadelphia demonstrates the damage that assumptions can do to individuals and assumers.  It’s time we admit that our assumptions are quite likely out-of-date, especially in a world of constant change.  We are wise to focus on “individual merits” rather than assume we know about people and things.  Prior experience can help to keep us safe, develop our capabilities, and introduce us to new areas of interest, but it should not be used to pre-judge anything.  Life is far more enjoyable when we continue to see it through open eyes.  It is amazing how many interesting people, activities, and things exist just beyond our assumptions. 

Don’t question people.  Question what you assume.

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