A man was sitting on the sidewalk, with a guitar at his side and a mason jar with a few dollars in it, next to the guitar. A woman walked up to him. They stared at each other for a few seconds.
“Are you going play?” she asked.
“Are you going to pay?” he replied.
The woman looked at him skeptically and with a raised eyebrow and tight grin, shook her head saying never mind walked away. I understood she thought he was a jerk since she mumbled it under her breath when she turned to leave.
So what really happened here? Was this the case of a street performer who didn’t get the play-for-pay drill? Was he just a jerk? I didn’t know. I couldn’t know because there was much more to question in order to understand. In circumstances where assumptions can be readily made, no one will ever know the actualities unless all the questions needed to understand any situation are asked in the moment. If we decide that walking away is easier, than we’ll be missing out on understanding or learning more about a person, a situation, a point of view and perhaps, ourselves.
We all have the tendency to make assumptions based on what we see or experience and we believe our assumptions are true. But when we make assumptions about what other people are doing and thinking, we often blame or shame them needlessly because it feels personal. The woman who approached the musician took it as a personal affront that he wouldn’t play for her. She called him a jerk. She stormed away. She felt slighted. She created drama. So how do you stop yourself from making assumptions and not allow hurt feelings and confusion or, even worse, drama to follow? Ask questions. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to understand. The only way not to assume is to actually know.
I asked the musician if he would play a song. He asked me to pay first. So I put a donation in his jar and I stayed to hear the song. When he finished I asked him why he didn’t play first, suggesting that he might make more money this way.
“That’s the way everyone does it,” he said. “But I’m an artist. When I get paid, you get my art.”
So now I knew. He wasn’t just being contrary or difficult. He had a reason for how he was doing things that might not have been the most expected approach, but it was understandable, nonetheless.
When he picked up his guitar and began to play for me, other people walking by stopped to listen and put money in his jar.
He got to maintain his point of view that his art should be acquired, not given away, while at the same time, earning even more money from passersby who remained unaware of the entire process. It seemed like a win-win for him. He didn’t feel like he was selling out.
I gave him a thumbs up and continued on my way. What may seem obvious to one person, might not be so apparent to someone else. Assumptions can cause hurt feelings and misconstrued perceptions. Have the courage and curiosity to ask questions so you can truly understand any situation you are faced with.