Context and Perspective: Not Just for John Hughes

I’ve written before about being mistaken as my kids’ grandmother instead of mother. When it’s a kid that does it, I don’t get mad. After all, I seem to recall as a high school sophomore thinking the college-aged kids must be really mature and have their life all planned out as I served them post-parting-hangover food. Obviously, one’s own age and experiences plays a role in such perceptions.

An older gentleman who had a “grandpa” like status in my childhood had two sayings he was fond of: “Hair and brains don’t mix” and “Age ain’t nothin’ but mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it don’t matter.” Yes, he was bald as a cue-ball and a very fun-loving young-at-heart kind of soul. He may have missed a few lessons on grammar and proper language, but he was spot-on about the role of context and perspective.

So while the context of aging is different for children, it really is all about perspective. It’s about how you perceive the value of aging and the aged. At least that’s what I’m reminding myself these days.

Last week I was offered the senior citizen discount on my cup of coffee.

I’m 44. Which, no matter how you do the math is a long ways from the “varies by location” age requirement for a senior discount. (Who knew Arby’s was only 55! Woot, 11 more years, baby!) And while I certainly don’t have the skin of a “senior”, I do have the hair color of one. So I can understand how the woman at the till may have quickly glanced in my direction, saw gray hair, and gave me the discount. But what was interesting was her reaction to my reaction.

“Only $1.07? Really?” I asked as I put back the second bill and sorted through some change.

“Yep. That’s the price with the senior citizen discount,” she said while straightening the stack of ones in the till, assessing the potential for a line behind me, and seeing if the other barista was filling my cup yet. In other words, even when I questioned her about the price, she didn’tΒ really look at me.

Have you ever done that? Looked at someone and not really saw them; instead saw them via the context you had already created by your perspective?Β I’m assuming if you’ve seen any John Hughes’ films, you know how this can play out.

I’m not complaining that the barista was so focused on speeding me through the line that I saved a few cents on my cup of black coffee. Heck, thank you. And I’m not sure I’m actually even really complaining about being mistaken as someone in their 50s or 60s, since if my appearance really distressed me, I could try finding a hair color product that doesn’t bother my health issues.

I guess what I am complaining about is that I had forgotten. I had forgotten how folks create an identity for me based on their context and their perspective. My complaint isn’t that they do it because such behavior is a fully human one. My complaint is that it is always such a shock to be reminded that this is what happens to all of us, all the time. After all, I only think of my hair color when I look in a mirror. The other 23.75 hours in my day is spent thinking about more important things. But my hair color is an easy way to try to judge me, to create a context for who and what I am, based on someone’s perspective on aging. I’m not sure I like people taking the easiest route to decide what to think about me. And yet, I don’t have much to complain about. What about the people with disabilities, or 200 extra pounds, or religious garb, or birthmarks, or whatever. It’s always the easy route we take to create a context for someone and then fill in the details with our own perspectives.

Thinking about such things happening, as well as how I do it myself, makes me a tad agitated.

However, I’m sure a nice cup of coffee can sooth my nerves. At least until the jitters start.

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6 thoughts on “Context and Perspective: Not Just for John Hughes

  1. Now you’re in My back yard, Young-un. I tend to think (and worry) in terms of Perception / Reality, and you see Context and Perspective, all related facets of the same cloudy/bright gem that is “Thinkin’ about thinkin”.

    Next month I turn that awesome and terrible fifty-five, an age so fraught with underlying preconceptions and conciliatory discounts that even the American Association of Retired Persons has it as their “one of us” threshold.

    As you say, we fill in the details of our ideas of people all the time. I am often surprised and chagrined when I realize that I’m thinking of someone in terms of things about them I have actually assumed, or deduced, or just plain made up in my head. Things that I have to realize have Nothing to do with who that really person is, how they think, how they feel.

    The good news is that it’s pretty much inevitable (The way our brains work) so we don’t have to feel too bad about it happening. We just have to know it happens work that into our thinking.

    Thanks, Kristine

  2. My mama was white headed at twenty. She had mono one day and white hair the next. She’s gorgeous. I think that’s actually why I was intially drawn to you, Quicky and the Miss Lovely Linda, up there. You look like “good people.” Now obviously, I found you in the webisphere based on your talent and writing, but you drew me in somehow. And now you’re a couple of my favorite pple. πŸ™‚

    I use an avvi most of the time, as you know. I don’t photograph well. There are real pics of me on my FB. You do have to look for them,lol. I don’t think I look that old. I’m 38 and just started getting very light blonde (ok, they’re white) strands in my hair over the past year. I think for me, it’s the three older kids. I had my sixteen year old when I was 22. He’s also tall. I think he makes me look old when ppl just give a cursory glance. But the real clincher was the advent of my BabyBoy a year and half ago. Now I’m a grandma most places we go. I like to think it’s because of my laid back parenting style. I mean, I’ve done this three times before. I don’t freak when sh*t spills, lol. But really, I think it’s those big kids. People just take a quick peek and move on. Could it also be the cane I walk with? I’ve had that since I was 26. So, hahaha.

    Funnily enough, in Chicago a month ago, when I was still healing from an acute injury on top of the chronic, I walked into a Target hanging on my Big boy’s arm for stability. Several people seemed to acknowlege us as a couple. It was really fun watching their reactions when we bought some diapers and cute little clothes for BabyBoy. πŸ˜‰

    I guess it is all about our perspectives and perceptions.

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