A couple weeks ago my family and I went camping and left our dog with my sister and her husband. When we returned home we stopped to pick up our dog. We opened the door and our dog unceremoniously ran right past us and up the street!
While my wife ran after him, yelling his name, I went in the house to grab his leash and a few treats in the hopes of luring him back. By the time I caught up to my wife, Skippy had stopped running. He peed on a bush and ran back to us. We were about three blocks up the street from my sister’s house.
Then I heard a voice.
“What’s your address?”
I turned around and there was a man sitting in his truck. My initial thought was that he was lost and thought he’d ask for directions. I told him we weren’t from this town.
“I was just wanting to know so I could bring my dog to go to the bathroom in your yard!”
Oh, now I get it. We were standing in this guy’s yard! He magically got home at the exact moment we caught our dog. I immediately sought to clear up this misunderstanding. I told him that our dog had run away and we had just caught him. Further, my wife had checked and he had not pooped in the yard. But the man was not deterred. More gruff words followed.
Again I tried to explain how our dog ran away. He didn’t want to hear it. With a bit of fear of the stranger creeping in, we walked away.
I was struck with anger. WHAT A JERK!
But soon my anger turned to something else: questioning. What had happened in this man’s day, or life, to cause him to see two parents and two little kids with their dog and automatically assume the worst? He didn’t see us and ask if we needed help. He didn’t take time to question what we were doing. He jumped directly to the worst case scenario: that we had taken our kids out to show them how to teach a dog how to deface property.
Maybe if I was a teenager, alone or with a buddy, then I’d expect someone to assume the worst. And my own white privilege has certainly trained me to expect to get the benefit of the doubt. But I am haunted by this question:
What happens to a person to make them assume the worst motives in others?
Honestly, it made me sad. It made me sympathize with whatever forces brought this man there. It made me desire to assume the best towards others for my own life.
How do our assumptions and biases shape our understanding of reality?