Post No.: 0728
An opinion or unverified presumption is logically more guaranteed to speak about the person who holds or shares it than the subject of the opinion or presumption. For example, if we judge someone as physically ugly then that’s only our own opinion. It’d also reveal that we care a lot about how people look, which that other person might not necessarily be concerned about.
But we frequently fail to realise when our judgements are only presumptions, preconceptions, prejudices or subjective opinions instead of accurately verified and totally unambiguous objective facts. We just think that most of what we think and say are facts. We might even explicitly say, “That’s a fact” or, “That’s true” to what’s technically an opinion rather than a matter of truth or falsehood. What’s too much/little of a trait reveals our own subjectivity. Opinions are mistaken as facts, while matters of fact are sometimes mistaken as matters of opinion.
Even highly popular opinions aren’t facts. There have been many popular opinions and beliefs within some circles and places historically that aren’t as popular or accepted as right today – like how slave trading was considered defensible, or that the celestial bodies revolved around the Earth, which was considered to be at the centre of the universe. (Well it can depend on one’s frame of reference but it’ll hardly be the simplest description of the motion of the celestial bodies. Actually, there isn’t a centre of the universe at all according to standard theories of cosmology.) Imperialistic ambitions used to be celebrated by the British during the age of the British Empire, but more British people nowadays criticise the idea of imperialism. (Perhaps it’s all ‘empire is mighty’ when it’s our own empire that’s on top, and ‘empire is evil’ when it’s not!) Compared to today’s general materialism, ascetic beliefs of a good life found greater followings during parts of history (suffer now to be rewarded in the afterlife), thus even conceptions of what brings fulfilment are products of the times and places we’re in. Popular gossip therefore won’t itself make something true or correct even though we might presume ‘surely so many people cannot be wrong’.
‘Used to’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘now’. ‘Most people’ doesn’t mean ‘everybody’. Well even if every human agreed on something, it could be a human-wide bias? Other animals might disagree; like your singing might sound great to a ptarmigan?(!)
The questions we ask can be loaded with our own presumed answers rather than always phrased neutrally too. It’s usually subtler than this but for an illustration – did you steal from your workplace today?!
Here, it’s not just a case of, “I was only asking” and, “You could’ve just said no”! (Yet if you keep denying it after persistent probing, you might be accused of ‘protesting too much’ hence you illogically definitely did do it(!)) The phrase, “You don’t need to get defensive” is also hypocritically a defensive response, plus it assumes that a reply was defensive. Asking, “Is there any more food?” is different to, “How come there’s no more food?” because the former is asked in case one has missed something whilst the latter already presumes there isn’t anything more.
We nine-out-of-ten times get what each other mean so it’s seldom problematic, but if we are the one who’s mistaken then it’d speak more about us – even though we might insist that the other person meant what we thought they meant and they’re just lying and we weren’t mistaken! The presumption that something meant one thing when it meant another represents a mistaken interpretation from whomever made the presumption, not a lie from the person who originally stated the statement and meant something else – if only we would accept that we were wrong if it was us who was mistaken. Without evidence to prove them, our presumptions are just presumptions, but it can be difficult to realise that we’re making presumptions when we are.
With more knowledge, we will wish to ask more questions rather than jump to early conclusions. For example, a layperson may presume that every skin rash is a sign of poor hygiene but a doctor will know that there are many different types of rashes and there may be multiple potential causes for one, including allergens, autoimmune diseases, heat, certain medications and more. Perspicacious people are therefore less likely to jump to conclusions and consequently less likely to jump to fearfulness or hostile defensiveness.
If we never personally become more learned, we’ll never realise how wrong we might be with our simplistic black-or-white views of the world, hence we’ll forever confidently believe we must be categorically correct with our judgements for only being able to consider a limited range of possible (one-sided) interpretations or explanations. We might then share our views in public with confidence, and others will read our confidence and trust in it because ‘why would someone be so confident if they weren’t right?’ We might fool those who know even less than us but we won’t fool those who know more.
We might ask what someone has done lately? And, although this is phrased as a question, because we haven’t personally heard an answer from anyone then we might believe there is no answer. So rather than reserve making any judgement because we don’t have enough information, and instead of seeking for more information straight from that person it concerns – we’ll just assume they haven’t done anything lately otherwise ‘we surely would’ve heard about it’, as if everybody brags about what they’ve done or are doing; for which this presumption might possibly divulge the truth about how we like to brag about everything we do. (There exist modest people who’ve done more but mention what they’ve done less. And a silent response from another person doesn’t necessarily mean we’re right because it might instead mean they think it, or we, aren’t worth wasting any breath on!) So we’ve got to learn to be okay with reserving our judgements, or at least holding more tentative opinions, unless/until we get more definitive answers. It’s not a sign of less intelligence to reserve making strong opinions. It often indicates the contrary – because again opinions don’t constitute facts.
Strong opinions make us feel like we understand the world though. They make us feel self-righteous. And so what we don’t understand about other people, objects or situations, we tend to fill in the gaps in line with a perceived stereotype or pattern so that everything continues to fit into what we currently understand. But once more these presumptions would only reliably speak the truth about ourselves, not necessarily about the other persons or things we’re trying to judge. Now we might be right about our judgements – but we might be wrong hence why the more reliable take-away concerns what our judgements of others say about us. Besides, whenever we make such judgements, we’re just guessing at someone else’s character whereas we’re categorically disclosing our own in some way.
For example, one stereotype is that people who stay at home all day are people with no jobs, and people without jobs must just laze about. These kinds of stereotypes aren’t reliable because people can and do work from home, and people without jobs can be studying hard, looking hard for a job or otherwise quite busy instead of playing or being idle – hence these beliefs would more reliably disclose what we’d do if we were in their shoes and were to be found at home all day, rather than disclose what others would do in their shoes; or it’d at least speak about our own (mis)perceptions and indeed cognitive stereotypes of others. It might alternatively disclose our bias in assuming that we’d work hard at home but others don’t or wouldn’t.
Our preconceptions may mean that we believe someone isn’t working unless they look or sound like they’re working, according to what we assume is ‘looking or sounding like’ work. So perhaps someone who commutes every weekday ‘looks like’ they’re doing real work whilst someone who remote works, whether still in their pyjamas or not, isn’t really working at all; or someone who incessantly complains about their job ‘sounds like’ they’re working hard whilst someone who just gets on with it has a relatively easy occupation. (There exist those who do relatively little but like to make a big fuss about what they do!) These general perceptions changed when more people began to work from home during the pandemic. Many more people prefer to WFH nowadays. But before then, many people who told others they worked from home received some sceptical judgements. Many presumed that little work could get done at home but now they can empathise with the benefits and challenges, and they understand better that those working from home shouldn’t be disturbed any more than those working in an external office.
Our own feelings of surprise or disappointment unveil our own biases too because we’re only surprised when something violates what we expected, thus if we held different prior expectations or presumptions, we’d be surprised by different events and outcomes. For example, if we felt surprised that someone performed a kind act then this would only reliably uncover how we presumed this person was incapable of kindness. This effect is often related to thinking that one personally perceives the world with full and perfect clarity and that one’s instinctive judgements based on ‘thin-slicing’ (inferring patterns based on narrow windows of experience) are usually right. In other words, it broadcasts one’s own biased presumptions, otherwise one wouldn’t be surprised by this other person’s actions and would’ve just thought ‘I didn’t presume I knew this person enough from my own limited experiences of them’. No one is simply ‘perfectly good’ or ‘perfectly evil’ anyway.
We might patronise others when we presume they know less than we think. A patronising reaction of surprise when we find out that someone knows something we didn’t think they’d know is similar.
People sometimes don’t even fully know those closest to them because they’ve made too many presumptions and guessed, instead of asked questions and confirmed, information about them.
You get some members in cooperative games who are quick to blame others for every mistake while others stay calm about the state of play. Just look at comments sections, political discussions – anywhere – and different people have different perspectives towards the same events. A prime example of confirmation bias is when watching sports whilst confirming the presumption that one’s own players are the fairest, hence the heated disagreements between different fans regarding who’s committing fouls or simulating being fouled despite everyone watching the exact same pictures. We each assume we’re the ones seeing the world objectively and anyone who disagrees with us must be wrong – but no one perceives the world objectively hence why our views speak about us.
…In short, unless a judgement is about something that can be objectively determined, and we’ve verified it as a fact with hard evidence – our presumptions are our presumptions and will only reliably speak the truth about us and what we (think we) know, and about how we think. Our presumptions will speak more truth about our own insecurities, fears, desires, priorities, preferences, values, snobbishness, low or high standards (whether or not we meet these high standards ourselves while we judge others), experiences, information sources, biases, level of education, etc. than of the people we’re apparently judging. But we typically fail to recognise that we’re making presumptions – we’ll just assume they’re matters of fact and are objectively correct. We therefore might not care to seek for more verification because we already believe our presumptions are conclusive.
Woof! We’ve got to recognise our presumptions as being just presumptions and caveat any conclusions we make based upon them as tentative or merely personal. And if we want to believe our hypotheses are facts then we must find enough hard evidence to prove them.