But how can you know from just from the image above? In Intercultural Training settings we get some very interesting and elaborate stories about the person in the picture (there are a number of different pictures I may use). We so love our stories. The thing is — the brain will make up a story to fit our past experiences, our culture, the media, and so on. The problem is that very often the stories we tell ourselves are completely untrue.
To explore the idea a little more about our tendency to jump to conclusions we use an activity called DIE — an acronym for DESCRIBE, INTERPRET, EVALUATE.
- DESCRIBE — take a moment to look at the picture again and use some adjectives to describe what you see. You may use words like black, eyes, brown eyes, nose covered, hair covered … can you guarantee anything else? Could you really say that it is a woman, for example?
- INTERPRET — you may make a guess and say that this is some kind of religious head covering, or maybe a bank robber in a ski mask, Muslim, woman, ninja!?
- EVALUATE — here we tend to use words which may have some emotion. Like oppression, submission, sad … or other more negative words and phrases which may come to mind.
Very often we will interpret or evaluate a person’s actions or intentions without proper evidence that we are arriving at an accurate conclusion. We assume and when we assume, we make an ASS out of U and ME (ASS.U.ME).
A friend of mine sent me a picture dressed in an abaya and hijab. We played the DIE game, and my trainees came up with some very interesting speculations about what her life consisted of, but then they were told that she was not muslim, was of British nationality, and was simply working in Saudi Arabia giving teacher training for a few days. There was very little from their stories which was merely descriptive, and their interpretations and evaluations were far from the truth.
When we assume, we make an ASS out of U and ME.
Sometimes jumping to the wrong conclusion can be funny or inoffensive. But in some situations real offense can be caused or taken because of a too quick interpretation of someone’s action. The best advice is to slow down and force yourself to think outside your normal, quick, split-second judgement and do some describing first. (I wish my mother had done that when I was a kid instead of punishing me for what she though had happened).
Here’s a great article to illustrate my point. What would you have done?
A muslim woman was recently criticised online after pictures circulated from the Westminster Bridge incident in London. Apparently, some people interpreted her “look” and evaluated her state of mind as being “not concerned”!
How is it possible that people can just jump to these seemingly idiotic conclusions? Well, it’s because we tend to evaluate and interpret without stopping to think about what it is we are looking at, and seeking for possible explanations rather than just jumping to (generally wrong) conclusions.
In a situation whether it be intercultural, or just jumping to conclusions about why your spouse didn’t smile at you and therefore doesn’t love you any more!
- STOP — describe the situation to yourself in your mind.
- THINK — is there an explanation which you can’t see from where you’re looking?
Is there a different way of looking at looking which would make you see things differently?
Can you see how something can look different to someone else?
- ACT — when you have given the adequate (or as much available) time to thinking, then it may be appropriate to act. The higher the stakes, the more time you may need at the thinking stage.
This is not only an exercise for intercultural intelligence. It can be used for many situations where emotional intelligence is called for. In relationships, in the classroom / school, at the office, with your family, and so on.
Enjoy, and DIE!
(The article was updated after the Westminister terror attack — March 2017 — to include a pertinent example from the incident).