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Assumptions gone awry

February 10th, 2011

Normally I’m not a “CSI” fan, but it happened to be on TV when I went to bed the other night.

I couldn’t fall asleep right away so I watched for a bit. One of the cases the team was working on included two deaths. One death was a boy who had been run over by a cab; the other was the stomping death of the immigrant cab driver. Although the death of the boy was tragic, it was the death of the cab driver that really struck me.

It struck me because of the nature of the crime. It seemed that the cab driver accidentally ran over the boy because he had been talking to the woman he was driving and was not paying attention. Horrified, the driver ran to check on the boy and when he realized the child was seriously injured, he ran back to the car to radio for help.

The only thing is that he never made it back to the radio. Seeing the foreign-looking cab driver run from the boy, a group of men nearby judged the man from first sight. They saw that he looked different and assumed that he was fleeing from the scene. Their stomping him to death was supposed to be “justice” for the boy.

Full disclosure — I fell asleep before the end of the episode, but even if the case turned out differently the lesson I took from it still holds true. We judge.  Even when we try not to, we do. We all take away first impressions about people. When we meet people, talk to them for the first time or see them for the first time, we make assumptions about who they are and what they are like. Sometimes we get to know them and those assumptions change, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.

That’s not to say that violence always results from these false judgments. I don’t think that the majority of us would take those judgments to the extent of violence that the men in “CSI” did, but that does happen.

I generally try to be open to people, but I too make assumptions about people I don’t know.

I succumbed to this fault this past Christmas Eve. My family was at Mass, and there was a young man in the choir who was acting slightly inappropriately. He was paying a lot of attention to my little cousin, blowing her kisses and trying to reach out and touch her arm. My cousin is adorable and if he were someone we knew, we wouldn’t have paid it any attention. However, we didn’t know who he was and my brother and I felt he was being kind of a creep.

This view was asserted when the guy later said some odd, inappropriate things to my uncle. My brother and I were certain he was a creep and on the drive to my aunt’s house later we weren’t afraid to say so amongst ourselves. There was no reason to believe, given his normal appearance and his inappropriate behavior, that he was anything else.

It turns out, however, that he was the victim of a horrible car accident and had suffered some brain damage which could explain his odd behavior.

I felt horrible. I had been ready to lump him in the same category as the men you see on “To Catch a Predator.” I had judged him when I didn’t know anything about him.

We all judge and it’s hard not to, but remember the age-old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” People may not be what they seem. You could be like me and end up seriously misjudging someone.