How About Listening Instead of Just Assuming?

   Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash


Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

I had a situation a few weeks ago in a workshop. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal and played it down. Things like that happened too often to even note.

The facilitator in the workshop asked me “did you have an arranged marriage”.

Without disrespecting anyone who did have an arranged marriage, I felt quietly humiliated. I was in a large group setting, and the fact that this question was posed to me in a presumptuous way, made me feel rather separate from the group. To be asked this question, an assumption was made about me based on my culture of origin. I wish the facilitator would have given me the space to talk about what was relevant to me, rather than asking a leading question.

I did what I commonly do in such a situation, said nothing. Neither did anyone else in the group.

On reflection I realised that the little things are the big things, and it's not ok to just keep quiet. It's so easy to make assumptions about people, based on what we deem to be true, or on our previous experiences. As the saying goes, 'when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.'

When the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, visited Pakistan last week, a British reporter asked him what it was like to be home. "Nah mate, I'm from South London", he retorted. The assumptions was made that just because his family hail from Pakistan, he considers it to be home.

Reflecting on assumptions, I visited the oracle of the internet and posed this question on Facebook:

"Curious to know what assumptions has someone made about you based on your gender/ culture/ class/ accent etc?

And how did you deal with it? Did you say anything? Did you speak to them about it? Did you speak to anyone else?

I'm currently exploring this as I fed back to someone who made assumptions about me based on my culture. My comments were entirely disregarded. Would love to hear some stories. Share away."

A few people answered it directly on the page, telling stories of where people made assumptions about them because of gender, accent, age etc.

More telling was that a few people contacted me directly to share of their experiences.

With what’s going on in the world with increasingly open prejudice, we can’t afford to stay quiet on these small things. When someone makes assumptions, walls come up, and we lose whatever trust and connection there might have been.

I reflected on what assumptions might be made in the ‘birth world’ which accounts for a lot of my professional experience. It’s a microcosm of what happens in the greater world at large.

Assumptions about social class.

Assumptions about education.

Assumptions about age.

Assumptions about the attitude of the doctor.

Assumptions about the attitude of the place of birth whether home/birth centre/ labour ward.

Assumptions about what happens if the baby is too big, too small, too early or too late.

Assumptions about culture. e.g pain tolerance, cultures where many family members might be present in the birthing room.

Assumptions about women who make certain choices, lumping one another into categories. Eg.

  • women who choose elective c-sections are _______
  • women who use hypobirthing are _________
  • women who are aware of their rights in birth are ________
  • women who birth at home are _________

Assumptions that a pregnant woman or new mother is enjoying her experience.

Assumptions that a new mother is just worrying too much.

I don't have many solutions to offer right now. My intention is to open up a conversation and suggest that our own perspective creates a filter through which we see our world. Staying open to learn and listen might just be a good start.

What assumptions have been made about you and how did it make you feel?