Assuming The Best About People

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I was meeting her for the first time. Dressed in an elegant saree, hair neatly tied up, with just a hint of lip colour and a warm smile, she looked the epitome of corporate success. It wasn’t just the way she looked or presented herself or her demeanour that spelled success, she held a coveted senior management position in a highly reputed firm, not something many her age or experience had been able to achieve. As I spoke to her, she impressed me further, though I had heard from some of her colleagues that she was quite the task master with no patience for work that was anything but the best.

I kept nodding my head as we spoke. In the background though, all the stereotypes, prejudices and judgments that my mind had inadvertently yet diligently formed and gathered over the years, were highly active. Just as I was thinking ‘She has it all’ with a touch of envy, she said something which caught my attention. She said she was a single mother and had been separated from her husband some years ago. There’s nothing extraordinary about that and many a single parent is happy and have fulfilling lives. But in a moment of candour she said something more. She said that, this piece of information was not something she shared with many, especially in the workplace, because people tend to judge single mothers. ‘Guilty as charged’ I thought to myself, feeling embarrassed because one of the thoughts that had immediately, almost imperceptibly crossed my mind was that she was a highly ambitious woman unwilling to let anything get in the way of her career success. And this, from me, who sees herself as an ambassador of women empowerment! Need I say more?

The point is, we are quick to form judgements and convict people for imaginary character flaws. We are so intent on proving our assumptions right, , once we form them, that we get busy gathering evidence, in every sentence spoken, every email written, every opinion expressed, every action taken and even in any well intended help offered by the individual in question. We are not to blame completely. We have been bombarded with messages, audio-visuals, stories, ads and movies that paint people in just two colours – white and black. Either someone is all good or then all bad. But our own personal life stories speak a different truth. We, humans are the most complex beings under the sun. In a single day we experience life and express ourselves in innumerable ways. We have our moments of pleasure, hope and courage and then there are those moments of hopelessness, pain and despair. Is it fair then, that we get judged on a select few of those moments in our lives? And we don’t even get to choose those moments! It is truly unfair because we are a sum total of all those experiences and expressions and no one can strip us of those.

While we are complex beings, there are some simple truths about people. All human beings are innately good. They mean well, want to do well and want to live up to their full potential. Yes it’s true that sometimes people don’t mean well, may feel vindictive or then take pleasure in seeing others suffer. But that is not the natural state of the human mind or heart and in all probability, these negative behaviours stem from a feeling of inadequacy in individuals that we as a society help to instil. How different would the world be, if all of us assumed the best about people? How different would the world be, if we couldn’t help ourselves from complimenting others generously? What if we laughed at our and others’ mistakes, while learning from them? What if we refused to focus on what people don’t have (be it a title, a spouse, a talent, eyesight, a club membership or a roof over their heads) and instead admired them for what they have and have achieved? What if we wholeheartedly accepted people just the way they are? I strongly suspect that the world would be a very different place.

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