Challenge Your Assumptions With Your Own Experience
The phrase “I’m a product of my environment” is one of the most real things ever said. Throughout my life I’ve made a tremendous amount of assumptions about life that were simply a result of not being able to challenge what I believed to be true. Growing up, a lot of what we learn is fact because the adult said so. Is ‘because an authoritative figure with power over us said so’ really a reason for us to just trust what’s said? For obvious reasons this serves us as children, however, as adults we have to take responsibility of self-educating.
Several stereotypes lead to prejudice applied to racism, sexism, as well as many phobias. If we don’t look at these, we can go through a good chunk of our adulthood embedding these beliefs in us. These beliefs will inherently affect our behavior toward those we have assumptions toward.
I’m still shaking stereotypes such as ‘white people’ can’t cook, gay men ‘dress better’ than straight men, strangers are dangerous, don’t share my resources because people want what I have. As a 30 year old black cis-gendered identifying male, you can imagine just how challenging it has to be for me on the regular to unlearn old beliefs that led to several assumptions.
Living with a lesbian in college and partying with her friends and playing sports with people outside my neighborhood who don’t look, think, or act like me for me gave me living examples to compare my beliefs against. Some PEOPLE can’t cook. Some PEOPLE dress different than others, engaging a stranger can be an uplifting experience, sharing reciprocates itself and the more you share, you find the more you’re shared with. The longer you operate with unchallenged beliefs, the harder they are to dismantle.
Let’s use a relatable example for many of us. Herpes has a belief structure surrounding it that it is so powerful, it leaves those of us with a positive diagnosis believing all sorts of negative, damaging things about ourselves, despite our life experiences clearly showing these ideas to be false. Are you dirty? No, you just showered. Are you the only person with this? No, look online for support groups and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of members in hidden communities. No internet? Then simply ask 6 sexually active adults and you’ll find someone. Are you promiscuous? No, you’re a human who enjoys the pleasure of physical human connection like many people who have likely been exposed to herpes, but have yet to test positive for it.
Unchallenged, these statements leave us associated with these learned assumptions. These are not your experiences. When you assure yourself of this through asking questions and answering truthfully, you expose those lies you’ve been fed.
What are the best ways to challenge your assumptions? You stop allowing them to be fueled. You ask questions about them. Are they always true? Oftentimes they aren’t. Then you can go down a list of practical questions like, how often does this happen? Do I like this? Does it serve me? Does it even apply to me? Then you replace those assumptions with what you know to be true from the experiences you have from challenging them. Apply this to stigma, stereotypes, various isms, prejudice and discriminations, and you have peace.
Courtney W. Brame is the Founder of Something Positive for Positive People, a hub of sexual health resources to navigate the challenges of a new sexually transmitted infection/disease. Resources primarily consist of the real experiences from people living with HSV (herpes), HIV, HPV and AIDS.