You're wrong about me (but I'm right about you), part 1: Assumptions

It’s a hot and muggy summer day, and like a million other people without air conditioning I’m sticky and fatigued. One of my students arrives for a lesson. “You must be very happy today,” she says.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re Brazilian. Brazilians love the heat.”

I can never resist this conversation, although I know exactly how it turns out. Here we go.

Me: “You’re wrong about it, and I’d be happy to explain to you why.”

Student: “Uh?”

Me: “First, look at me. Pink skin, shaved skull, blue eyes… From a genetic point of view I’m really European. The sun is very harmful to my biological type.”

Student: “Huh-huh.”

Me: “Also, I left Brazil 30 years ago. I’ve lived in Northern climes since. Brazil is history.”

Student: “Huh-huh.”

Me: “People have very different metabolisms, regardless of their national origins. That’s why on some days you see some people walking around in shorts and tee-shirts, others wearing sweaters and coats. Some people get cold easily, others not. I’ve always preferred cold weather. I was born that way.”

Student: “Huh-huh.”

Me: “Go to Brazil at the height of summer and ask everyone in sight, ‘Do you like this heat?’ Almost everyone will say, ‘No, it’s unbearable. I can’t wait until the summer is over.’ Rich people go to the mountain resorts during the heat waves, because it’s nice and cool up there. The poor suffer miserably. A lot of Brazilians in Brazil don’t like the heat.”

Student: “Huh-huh.”

Me: “So, you can see that I don’t like the heat, even though I grew up in Brazil.”

Student: “But... you’re Brazilian, you must love the heat!”

It’s funny and it isn’t funny. The truth is, we all have fixed ideas on hundreds of subjects. Instead of looking at people and things as they are, instead of learning from each encounter and each situation, we let pre-formed visions dominate our minds. Then we confuse the inner visions with the things and people in front of us. Not all Brazilians love the heat, soccer, and Carnival (although some do, maybe even many). Not all Americans like defrosted hot dogs and watery beer (although some do, maybe even many). Not all Frenchmen cheat on their wives (actually, they all do). (Just kidding!)

In this series of blog entries I propose to look at how we fail to pay attention and grasp reality, and the price we pay for being so sure that the mirage is the oasis. Can't you see it? It's right there, in front of your eyes! Dive in!