In general, it is human nature to underestimate others. No matter what we may tell ourselves, most of us have no idea what we, or anyone else, are really capable of. We usually assume the worst, or the least, leaving little room to be disappointed, I suppose. I am guilty of underestimating everyone, including myself-- and I do it automatically. That's not to say that I don't expect anything from anyone. I absolutely do! I just find myself constantly in awe of how much more people are capable of than I expect. Everyone is always capable of more. Always. They-- and we-- just don't usually realize it!
Take me for example. I'm 5'4" tall, I weigh somewhere in the 120 lb range depending on the day, I tend to dress rather conservatively, and I have a pretty thick North Carolina accent. Someone meeting me for the first time in a neutral setting would probably never guess that I have a tattoo, or that my navel used to be pierced. They wouldn't suspect that I used to have eight ear piercings. They probably would be surprised to learn that I have a Bachelor's degree in chemistry and in education. They wouldn't assume that I'm an excellent shot with a handgun, and a terrible shot with a rifle. (They probably wouldn't guess I would use a gun at all!) Just by looking, they would not know I can make a mean martini. They couldn't possibly guess that I have known how to crochet for over 25 years. They would have no way of knowing my children have autism. They wouldn't guess that I'm afraid of clowns. Never in a million years would they be able to guess, just by looking, that I was scouted to play college basketball. They might guess that I'm a mom, and that I grew up somewhere other than where I live, but the rest would remain unknown-- possibly forever-- to them. Unless, of course, they took the time to find out. And, I have lots of room left to grow. There are things even I don't know about myself yet! Would you have ever guessed these things about me if I hadn't told you?
Would you ever suspect that a child in a wheelchair, with obviously severe motor limitations, could ride a horse?
Would you ever guess that a first grader with Downs syndrome could read on a second grade level?
Would it ever occur to you that a child with behavioral problems can sing like an angel?
Would you ever guess that a child that has trouble sitting still in class has actually, in fact, heard and understood everything you've said, even though she appears to be ignoring you?
Would you believe that a 3rd grader has committed to memory volumes of NASCAR factoids, and can recall them at will with amazing accuracy?
Would you believe that a man with a terrible stutter would become a country music legend?
I could go on and on with my examples, but my point is this: don't get so caught up with what's on the cover of book that you don't read the whole story. Take the time to learn what you cannot observe. Don't stop expecting more when you hear an accent or a stutter. Don't expect less when you see almond shaped eyes or a wheelchair. Don't turn the other way when you see a child stimming while the rest of the room is sitting still. Don't assume someone is rude or bashful or lacking manners because they aren't making eye contact. Don't write someone else's story for them based on what you observe about them. You will get most of the story wrong. If not wrong, then you will, at the very least, leave most of the interesting stuff out all together.
So why am I on this soapbox? I guess it's because I spend most of my days working with children that have some sort of limitation. I work with kids that have autism, Downs, cerebral palsy, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and learning disabilities. If I allowed myself to jump to conclusions about their abilities, to assume, to be the ass that human nature dictates, then I would be selling these kids short. Even though they have limitations, these children also have endless potential, as does everyone. It's our job to help one another tap into our potential. Our job is to recognize each other's potential, instead of our limitations. We all need to be reading each others' stories instead of looking only at their unusual covers. Only then can we begin to recognize our strengths as a way to overcome our weaknesses, and finally discover what we are each capable of. Not only that, but the more we believe others can do, the more they will strive to do. The covers of our books only tell the smallest part of our stories.
We get so busy with our lives that we stop taking the time to read anyone's story, but most especially those whose cover differs from our own. I am guilty of this, and if you are honest with yourself, so are you. We simply judge folks at a glance, and assume we know everything we need to know. We are really doing a disservice to ourselves and everyone we meet when we do this. Just for fun, take a moment and get to know another person's story, for a change. You'll be surprised by what you learn.
And the best part? For a moment, you'll know what it's like to NOT be an ass. :)