As I taught some basic Spanish to a class of second graders, I thought I would get some help from an expert. There was a little boy in the class who had recently moved from Mexico. His English was quite good, so he had obviously been attending an English speaking school, but I knew that he spoke Spanish at home.
I had the best intentions of helping him feel like a valued part of the class as I asked him to help us spell a few words in Spanish. I was surprised as each time he spelled them wrong. This was my expert. He was raised speaking Spanish. Then it hit me.
He was in second grade.
I wouldn’t have expected the English-speaking second graders to spell everything correctly in English. The spelling lists proved that they were still learning many basic words. I had just assumed a level of expertise without thinking about the level of education that this little boy had. I was pretty amused with myself once I figured it out.
We do this all the time, and especially with religion. We know someone who is Protestant, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Hindi, or something else, and assume that they are a spokesperson and representative of that religion. If we disagree with their statements, character, or beliefs, even if they are contrary to the actual teachings of their faith, it can taint our view of the whole thing.
We need to remember this as we form opinions of others. Most importantly, we need to remember that people are looking at us in the same way. Quite the responsibility, really.