Seeing Does Not Mean You Know The Story.

“Oh look!  That guy just dropped his burger and fries on the sidewalk!” J. said.

“What happened?” E. asked.

“That truck pulled into the parking spot so fast, it must have scared him.  Oh, don’t tell me he’s going to pick it up and eat it!”  J.’s commentary drew the three of us from our meals to the scenario outside the tiny downtown cafe.  We watched the young man crouch on the sidewalk looking immobilized by the mess.

“Oh look…the driver of the truck is talking to him…now he’s heading for the store. The guy looks pissed at the driver,” J. added.

“I know the guy…it’s Dan. He’s quiet with a quick temper. The driver’s lucky Dan didn’t duke him,” I said. (Dan is not the real name.)

We continued our meal.  Dan kicked at the mess, then carried on his way – heading for a garbage container, I hoped.

We four continued visiting.  Soon, J. said, “Oh he’s out there again…omigod…he’s eating the bloody burger.  The box is still on the ground.  He’s eating the food that’s been all over the sidewalk!”

Compassion rose. Dan lived frugally, but I didn’t expect he was desperate.

The scene stayed with me. I knew more about this 30-something man than I had let on.  His heart is full of love, but he’s often thwarted by his intensity.  Hitting walls had been more familiar to Dan than finding gates that swung both ways.

A few years ago, it seemed he’d found a gate.  He fell deeply in love with a young woman.  They became pregnant and were quietly married.  He worked hard doing odd jobs.  That was difficult with no car, but he looked happy.

His wife gave birth to twins.  Before the babies were a year old, one died of crib death.  Dan was beside himself with grief.  In spite of his deep love, no matter how hard he tried to do the right things, grief magnified the couple’s negativity.  His love couldn’t keep his devastated bride by his side.

She and the baby went to her home province to be with her parents.

Two weeks after Dan’s hamburger incident, my walk buddy, Marion, and I were meeting at a coffee house.  As I waited, I saw Dan washing the windows of the establishment.  He saw my reflection in the window.  He turned, his demeanor softened and I received one of his rare and dazzling smiles.

“Dan! Good to see you. You’ve been on my mind. I was having dinner with friends a couple of weeks ago when that truck sped up to the sidewalk and scared you.  Awful!”  As I spoke, Dan looked puzzled.

I continued, “You know…when the hamburger and chips you were carrying went flying all over the sidewalk.”

“Oh… Yah… I have carpal tunnel in both arms and sometimes they jerk unexpectedly on me,” he said.

“You mean that guy in the truck didn’t startle you?”

“Oh no.  It was my arm that caused me to drop the food.  In fact, he wanted to help.  I told him no.  I was  embarrassed.”

“Did we ever conjure the wrong story!  We thought that insensitive lout should have bought you another hamburger.  I was worried that you would be starving…”  I didn’t add that we had seen him eating what he picked up off the sidewalk.  Or, that the box and fries were still on the sidewalk at the time we left.

Dan said, “I’d ordered three deluxe burgers.  The one I dropped was for someone hurrying to catch a ferry who was also hungry.  The restaurant rushed it for me. I told them I’d be back for the other two.  After I dropped it, I had to tell my friend he had to go without eating.  I felt especially shitty since I still had two.”

“You went back…?”

“Yah, I picked the two up and paid for all three.  With no lunch that day, I was super hungry.  So I ate one while I cleaned up the mess. Believe me, I still had room for the second one,” he grinned.  “I ate it while sitting outside on a spare chair where I could enjoy the live music.”  I hoped his grin signified his delight over anger well managed.

More than one mess happened that day. The mess created by our assumptions was a microcosmic example of how easy it is to create more serious messes.

From water to world politics and on to the stars,

seeing does not guarantee we have the facts. 


“Aqueous age…dazzling…briny broth of our origins…”

One single water molecule.  H₂O
What assumptions do you perpetuate about water?
Test them.

“Since childhood I’ve heard it’s possible to look up from the bottom of a well and see stars, even in daylight. Aristotle wrote about this, and so did Charles Dickens. On many a dark night the vision of that round slip of sky with stars has comforted me. Here’s the only problem: It’s not true. Western civilization was in no great hurry to give up this folklore; astronomers believed it for centuries, but a few of them eventually thought to test it and had their illusions dashed by simple observation…

…On my desk, a glass of water has caught the afternoon light, and I’m still looking for wonders. Who owns this water?…

…It is the gold standard of biological currency, and the good news is that we can conserve it in countless ways…

…We’d be wise to fix our sights on some new stars…”

– Excerpts from “Fresh Water” by Barbara Kingsolver – National Geographic Magazine, April, 2010

54 thoughts on “Seeing Does Not Mean You Know The Story.

  1. You know what they say about assuming; yes, I’ve done my share of it and have been wrong! I can only imagine the assumptions made of me. Assumptions are the roots of gossip…at least that is what I tell myself and it usually shuts me up when I don’t know the facts.

  2. Yeah, what’s that saying – AssUMe makes an ass out of u and me? It’s hard, I think, for the quick minded to stem the flow of conclusions before all the facts are gathered. One more instance where it definitely proved to be true, eh? 😉

    • We women had quite a laugh over the new facts. The amazing part…none of us questioned the reasoning. How often do we do that? That propensity along with all the available manipulations for photos does make your suggestion a good one, Charles.

  3. Good for you for following up with the story. You are a wise woman. I had a boss who used to say “Speak to people.” Truly, it’s amazing what you find out. Assumptions lead to perceptions, both one-sided and pretty dull. Like you commented on a post of mine months ago, “Chat it up.”

    • Isn’t it strange who people tend to back away from asking or seeking? There is so much more to most situations. Speaking to people is such a loving gesture. The more we do it, the less difficult it is.

      I noticed over the past few years when a contentious issue arose that needed attention, people would say, “Amy, you go ahead and talk to them.” or “Amy, you can do that, can’t you?” It is easier for me, I realized, but I wasn’t doing a thing for their development. So I began deferring it to another with support and, if wanted, even a suggestion for the opening statement. We all have to learn. Repression encourages disease physical disease so when I hesitate about speaking up, I think of my body having to absorb poison. I’m not much for that at all!

  4. Great story, Amy Aunty. I love the way you always serve us with the mixture of wonderful storytelling and your words of wisdom. Yes I too believe most of the time, the truth remains hidden within either the characters or the situation. We create our own assumption based on what we see and convince others that it’s true. I am glad that Dan met you that day, so that we could read this wonderful story.

    • Hi my friend Aridam. I so grateful you like my storytelling style. It’s what I love doing above almost anything else. I have women who I work with in different ways and sometimes when they know a story is coming, I believe I see their eyes roll upward – ever so slightly! 😀 Stories make it comfortable for us to hear the message. Today, I send you much loving energy and ask that all the blessings you didn’t know you could have be delivered to you now.

  5. Yes, your assumptions were woefully wrong, making this really a kind of funny story. But, I think you all should be patting yourselves on the back for not having ACTED upon your wrong assumptions, thus escalating the ironic mistake. Knowing me, I’d have rushed out of the restaurant and given the truck driver an ear full. Boy would THAT have been embarrassing!

    • Oh ho, Linda, now that would have added to the view! Dan looked extremely upset, but he wasn’t blowing up so I felt it was best to let him work it out. If he hadn’t been seen munching the burger that we THOUGHT he’d picked up off the sidewalk, I was going to ask if he needed some dinner. Brings Kenny Rogers to mind, “Ya gotta know when to roll, know when to hold ’em…”

  6. We often talk in our Buddhist sanga about “building stories.” That’s what you described. We just do it all the time–it’s neither good nor bad, it just is. The wonderful thing, Amy is when we become aware that we are crafting the story out of nothing but our mind. When that happens, we have a choice to stop and re-calibrate.

    That’s what your story made me do today. Thanks!

    • That’s it, Lorna, we do build stories. I red-facedly write as I think about a time when I believed a friend had betrayed a deep and powerful trust. It took more courage to approach the subject with her than to speak in front of hundreds of people. The delicacy on which these stories can form…so easily unraveled with two and so tightly knotted when left unchecked.

    • Good morning, WB! Yes, the political frenzy. It seems politicians have people watching for opportunities to turn scenes or statements into other stories.

      Re: Kingsolver…I fell short of stating that, for example, we’re making assumptions about having an endless supply of fresh water. I needed a refresher on seques! 😀

  7. Ah–now there’s a lesson for all of us.
    Pause. Buy time.
    Ask questions.
    Speak to people and let them tell their tales.

    I never get to know until I ask. And even then, it’s all up to the interpretation of the receiver.
    I’m glad to know that sometimes! Lets me off a hook that I sometimes was apt to put myself on.

    What a great fella to have been so thoughtful and honest. I wonder if he was sad that he wasn’t able to deliver for his busy friend.
    Darn carpel tunnel………

    • Yes, Mel, Dan was very concerned about his friend having to rush to the ferry on an empty stomach. Thus his attempt to get one deluxe burger to him in a hurry. On 2 of our 3 ferries, which are small, there’s no food service available. However the trip is no more than 35 minutes.

  8. Building stories, as Lorna put it, can also put innocent people behind bars. Too many times people have sworn to the truth and it turns out not to be so at all. This story of yours illustrates a good lesson for all of us, Amy…thanks for the reminder to see, and not jump to conclusions.

    • As an artist, I suspect you know that far better than most, Leslie. You know how one line, a new light, an added facet transforms. I especially suspect you since you teach, my friend.

  9. This is an altogether wonderful post. The story reminds of one my second mother-in-law told. They’d always lived in small towns vs. my cities-only life. The culmination of the story will give you the jist. “You see, in small towns the problem is not that people KNOW all about you, it’s that people THINK they know all about you. They don’t. They never do.”

    Saw that Leslie has offered you a award. Congrats! and Happy days, Amy. Hugs!

    • Perfect, Jamie. Your mother-in-law nailed it. Funny that I’m just learning aspects of this now that I am retired and not running all over the country.

      Really, Jamie, I continuously take more pages from your state of grace. I must write a post thanking people for awards more publicly. I’m encouraging them to focus on the newer bloggers – the ones who are nearly ready to quit! 😀

  10. Coming here is always so relaxing and comforting. At least one tiny part of this world is in safe hands — yours, dear friend. It’s not that we mustn’t or wouldn’t make mistakes, it is how soon we make amends.

    • So true, WW, it is about realigning and getting the knot out of our souls once we realize our misalignment. A good test is whether one wants to cross to the other side of the street whenever you see the other. “Don’t cross! Make amends!” That’s me talking to myself. 😀

  11. Most people would never have mentioned the burger and would have always assumed – ASSUMED – there’s the poor man who’d eaten a burger off the filthy sidewalk. Good on you Amy for speaking up and getting his side of the story.

    • We seem to be adopting an attitude of “act now, check later”. Trouble is the attitude is coupled with a propensity to not admit to anything. I worked with people who only believed they were out of line IF they were caught. I shake my head…

  12. Couldn’t agree more. I think it’s human nature though. Our brains are programmed to interpret and judge what we see in an instant so making assumptions is normal I think. What we do with these assumptions is what’s improtant; do we share it with others as if it was based on facts, do we use it to belittle and judge or do we find the true story? And after finding out that we were wrong, what will we do next?

    • Hi Peltingrain – thank you for taking the time to comment. Yes, we do constantly make assumptions – thanks to our conditioning, filters and biases. Being aware of this hopefully helps us remember to check things out before we jump to conclusions. For example, I learned of Dan’s generosity at a much deeper level as opposed to thinking he left a big mess on the sidewalk – for someone else to clean up.

      • You’re welcome. Leaving a comment wasn’t much. It’s just my way of saying thanks for a wonderful post and to keep you motivated to write more. I was just randomly browsing for blog posts for inspiration and materials for my story as I’m still very young and lacks experience and you’re blog was more than helpful for my next chapter. Thanks 🙂

  13. At last I’ve found you Amy, I’m such a computer incompetent that I’ve never been able to work out how to get to your blog. And I’m so glad I did, great stories.Assumptions I found so interesting, imagination and compassion can sometimes make us quite miserable when we assume!
    Do you know Miguel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements:” The third one is: Don’t make assumptions!
    So looking forward to following you, valerie

  14. Amy, I’ve been watching a lecture series called “Your Deceptive Mind.” It has me questioning so many things I see, hear, think, and remember. I hope I can hold onto the lessons of those lectures — and your post — that much of what we believe is based on views that may be distorted, or completely wrong. Thank you for the reminder.

    • I lived with a man whose perceptions and, consequently, memories were so unlike mine. I used to tell him if I continued to live with him, I’d have to wear a video camera on my head. I’m sure he felt the same. Even video cameras can’t necessarily tell the truth. Give evidence, perhaps.

      I once saw a play, written by a Japanese man, about a murder. Six different witnesses are testifying in court with six different scenarios. The actors act out each of the scenes and it was astonishing how the evidence could fit them all.

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