Monday, December 03, 2007

Simple Assumptions

I like to think of myself as a pretty conscious, aware person. I try hard not to make assumptions about people and I try diligently to understand perspectives other than my own. With all that effort, however, even I can sometimes be blinded by my own point of view and make decisions from that base.

On one of my recent past trips to Israel and Palestine, a friend of mine was setting up a new household and I wanted to get her and her teenage daughter a housewarming gift. I wasn't sure what I should get them. I thought about it for awhile and I looked through a few of my favorite stores at the mall for ideas. They needed a lot of things and I considered many options.

I finally decided to get them some very nice bath towels. I knew that they were using older towels, and who doesn't appreciate nice fluffy bath towels?

My friend and her daughter seemed delighted with the gift and I was happy with that.

Last night, I was shopping with this friend here in Israel. She finally told me that she'd had a bit of a chuckle and a slight dilemma when I had given her the towels. It seems that she paid to have her laundry done (at a near by kibbutz) and she paid by the kilo (by weight for those of you non metric speakers out there). These towels were big, thick... and heavy, when compared to older more worn towels! It actually cost her quite a bit more to have those towels laundered than her old ones!

She didn't want me to feel bad, and she said they used and enjoyed the towels despite the extra laundry cost! She said it was worth every penny extra because of how much her daughter loved those towels.

While I didn't feel horrible about what I'd done, it did give me pause for thought. The 'cost' of doing laundry is not something I've ever really thought about. I haven't ever really thought about the washer, dryer, soap, water and electricity that go into doing a simple load of laundry.

Not everyone in the world has a washing machine. Fewer people have dryers. (Almost noone has them here - most people line dry or use indoor clothes drying racks.)

I personally haven't been to a laundromat since I was in college. In my world, laundry is something that is done in a special room in the house and I don't give a single thought to how much soap, water or
electricity it uses to do my wash!

It was a great remeinder of how sometimes we can unintentionally make people's lives harder by trying to help them. The lack of understanding of another person's reality can make it challenging to avoid misunderstandings or errors.

If it can happen with a simple housewarming gift of new bath towels, imagine the complexities in regions of long standing ethnic or racial conflict on a large scale. Can you imagine how many assumptions are made and how many reactions occur based on what people think someone 'should' say or do as opposed to what they actually do? It is incredibly complex to even contemplate how many ways there are to get off track and upset other people.

The best solution I have is awareness (and compassion for ourselves when we make a mistake). the more we can pay attention our own tendancy to evaluate other people's realities based on our own experiences, the more we can stop occasionally to ask ourselves if maybe we've missed something.

I can guarantee that I'll never buy a gift for anyone again without considering it a bit differently than I would have in the past.

What we want here is progress, not perfection. A good intention goes a long way in this arena, and if more of us worked on this, I think the world could be a very different place.

No comments: