The butterfly effect

As a result of the events that took place over the past weeks, I’ve pondered on the cause and effect of snap judgment. In terms of the black men killed by men in blue, the immediate–and understandable–reaction was that these unjustifiable killings were done out of hate. At the very least they happened as a result of an unapologetic ideology that a black man with a certain look about him is up to no good. Too often, the visceral reaction is that a black man in certain circumstances will have in his possession something that gives the police reason to suspect he’s directly or indirectly involved in a crime. What often makes these types of killings impetuous, rests in the fact that questions that should be asked at the time of escalated fury are posed in hindsight.

A perfect example of rushing-to-judgment–and the judgment was swift–was after the towers began to tumble on 9/11. It was assumed straight away, anyone looking remotely as if they originated from the Middle East was a terrorist. No one gets a pass on this: we all unconsciously prejudge to myriad degrees each day. We see many daily occurrences through a superficial lens because we are too drama-tized to witness it with a deeper sense of rationale. Anything outside our periphery of relatability, we have a way of largely dismissing it, or we examine it with vague mediocrity. And if we don’t respond consciously, the subconscious has done it for us.

Most of my life, I’ve lived in communities where the makeup of residents was multicultural. I consider myself exposed. I have traveled extensively, and have read enough to have some understanding of various faiths and belief systems. I’ve not viewed myself as one to fall under the heading, “prejudice.” Yet in the past few days I have recognized, and in a practical way, that all of us, on some level, have preconceived notions. And while we might have the amazing ability to reason, nevertheless, we all fall short on being 100% open-minded. Too many factors prevent us from seeing a variety of things without some form of preconception. Up until just a day ago, I didn’t see myself as being unreasonably judgmental.

Yesterday, my radar was really, really off. I was talking on the phone with a woman from India. I had called an 800 number regarding a product I’d purchased (at an iconic store here in the U.S.), and the product malfunctioned within a few days of my purchasing it. Prior to the Indian woman answering my call, I was thinking, please let me get someone whose first language is English. When the woman from India came on the line I let out a sharp sigh. I began to explain the nature of my call. When it became clear that the woman, for one, could not understand me that well; and then secondarily, she kept repeating herself like a robot, I asked to speak with her supervisor. Because I don’t know this woman, I don’t want to call her stupid; she just played stupid by repeating the same things to me over and over again, which I would assume she was trained to do. When I made it clear that I no longer wanted to speak with her, and that I wanted to speak with her supervisor, she continued to repeat herself.

She placed me on hold for roughly five minutes.

When the foreign customer service person came back on the line, repetitiously, she gave me the same information she had given me prior to her putting me on hold for five minutes. I asked if she understood what I meant by “supervisor,” and she maintained that robotic nature: saying the same thing as if she read from a script. Annoyed, fed up, I said words to this effect: I don’t mean to offend you . . . I understand that you’re only doing your job . . . you’re in India–and by the way, taking jobs away from hundreds of thousands of Americans . . . You have no clue what I’m complaining about. You’re just a customer service person, and if this was happening to you you’d be upset, too.

I recall saying something like this: You just answer calls; you don’t make important decisions. You work for an American company–shame on you! Look, I’m done. Really. I am going to go over your head because you haven’t a clue how to help me.

The moment–the very instant–I disconnected the call, I felt the urge to redial the 800 number to locate the woman through a chain of other Indian-accented customer service reps solely to apologize. I was so worked up, so disappointed with the time invested, plus the service. More importantly, I had to speak with a customer service person who worked for an American company but was thousands of miles away from L.A.; in another country! She, nor her colleagues, was in a position to assist me beyond their scripted verbiage.

Some of us know when we’ve crossed a line. We think about it, and we replay it over in our head for some time, discerning that we have set aside our better nature to appease our need to be right. Too often we get caught up in our self-centeredness, and wants. We take our frustration, annoyance, personal problems out on the first person that reminds us of someone else we loathe. We do this more often than we care to sit back and consider. In fact, on some level we do it every single day. We judge people more often than not for small-minded reasons. The discrimination is often extremely out of context with what is taking place in the moment. So I can see how things escalate and get out of control, and before we know it something dreadful has happened we are unable to retrieve.

There’s no rewind button we can use. We have taken our complicated life out on someone else. Twenty-first century life is so demanding. The way we’re living now–we are so intense. We have become reactionary, so it’s easy to lose sight of when something is false evidence appearing real.

It’s natural–overreacting. And some of us can look back in hindsight and see how small we were in a moment of dramatizing.Yet, in that instant, nothing could pull us back from a situation in which we probably could have chosen differently. Each one of us, every single day, makes a choice that we are not fully aware of–or we don’t care–how it affects the lives of other human beings. The science community has reasoned that small causes–small causes which appear to have no effect whatsoever–potentially have a much greater effect over time.


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