Misconception (noun): a view or opinion that is incorrect because based on faulty thinking or understanding.
Last year, when I was on crutches, I was walking through a shopping centre one day. It was busy that day and I felt hot and tired and was in a lot of pain. I was overwhelmed. Against the railings overlooking the Food Court, I leaned my face on my hands and started to cry.
It so happened that I was standing next to one of those boutique things- you know, where the people offer you all kinds of beauty treatments and call it a bargain and if you accept one free sample you have basically invited a barrage of marketing. As I lifted my elbows from the railing and tightened my grip once again around the crutch handles, a woman at the boutique called out to me. “Do you want to take a seat?” she asked.
I whirled around in total disbelief. “Do I look like I want to take a seat?” I nearly shouted, tears forming again in my eyes.
It only occurred to me afterwards, once I had passed her, that she might have been asking in earnest if I wanted to sit down. If I needed to rest. Maybe she was being kind, maybe she wasn’t, but I felt guilty about it for the rest of that day, remembering the surprise on her face. It could be that because of past experiences with people at beauty-booths, I had misconstrued her kindness as a ruthless sales technique. It could be that I had misjudged her.
When I think about that day now, I remember still the absolute frustration of trying to get anywhere on crutches. The pain. But I also remember that woman, nearly getting her head bitten off for trying to help me (maybe).
We all have preconceived ideas about how other people, or groups of people, will behave. Sometimes they are based on experience, sometimes not. I know I make judgements based on experience or on things that have been passed on to me by others. Often they are based on misconceptions, like my misconception that anyone working at a beauty stall was necessarily a hard-line sales person without a heart (at least, during working hours).
When I worked in a coffee shop in Edinburgh, my manager told me that “if a builder asks you for a cappuccino, always make him a latte, because that’s what he really expects.” A misconception that a builder would be a certain “type” of person, and one that didn’t know his/ her coffee, at that. I didn’t necessarily agree but I followed his advice.
And yet, like so many people, I have struggled against other peoples’ misconceptions my whole life. Even by virtue of being young when I was a teenager, I was faced with the expectation that people of my age were rude, antisocial or even threatening. I always felt I had to work double-hard, be double-polite, to counteract those associations. I was scared of perpetuating a stereotype, of letting the side down, as it were.
Though it may sound crazy “in this day and age” (and particularly if you’ve not experienced it) being non-white made me all the more cautious not to “betray” myself and others like me as rude or aggressive. I didn’t want to add to that misconception, which I knew subtly existed.
And having been a self-harmer? I struggled with all the misconceptions that people hold of that: attention seeker; necessarily abused; immature. Bipolar? Moody; changeable; aggressive; “making it up”. All of those things and more.
It can be hard to struggle against the misconceptions others hold about you. It is also hard to challenge your own, sometimes unwittingly held, views of others or groups of others. But we need to try, if we are to reach an understanding of others and make life easier both for others and for ourselves.