“I wonder who planted these trees?” Understanding our own defaults, biases, & assumptions.

Each one of us has defaults, biases, and assumptions. That is a reality. These defaults shape the way we see and understand the world. I remember a SEATS class I held on a small island in the east side of the Philippines. We were discussing Jesus’ famous illustration of the lily of the fields. The students were reporting after some group work on what they thought the illustration meant and I was struck by one thing: Interpretation depends not only on linguistic context but also on cultural context. A “lily” in the Philippines grows in the water. You may call them them lily pads or water lilies. The lily Jesus was talking about is different because it grows in the fields. There was a lot of discussion about this.

What is my default? My mind defaults to Saskatchewan. I wasn’t born here, I don’t live here (other than temporarily because of COVID-19) but I did spend my formative years here. I guess that’s what makes it my default. So how does this default manifest? In maps. When I look at a map my mind automatically assumes that the topography around the various map points is similar to Saskatchewan. If you have never been you need to visit sometime. Saskatchewan is an incredibly beautiful place, with vast boreal forests, rushing rivers, magnificent valleys, and living skies. But in spite of all of these things, Saskatchewan is known for being like one thing — a billiard table. It’s flat. There are few trees, at least in the south. When you arrive at in intersection on the highway you can expect to see nothing beyond two roads converging. When we were kids we spent some time planting trees for use as shelterbelts to keep the winds from blowing crops away.

Sometimes we don’t realise our biases. I didn’t realise my bias about geography until I moved to British Columbia in the early 1990s. Eva and I were moving from Saskatchewan to BC and I remember driving down Highway 1 into Langley, BC. The Highway is lined with beautiful, large trees — forests actually. I remember thinking to myself, “Somebody must have spent a lot of time planting these trees.”

It was odd that I assumed they were planted because I had driven through the bush before in several provinces (and even in other countries). I even dreamed of living in the bush at one time. But for some reason this was different. In my mind, these trees were planted. I didn’t realise those were my thoughts until a few months passed and it all of a sudden hit me — these trees were natural! No one planted them. In fact people spent lots of time and effort to cut them down!

It got me thinking about other assumptions that I have about life. Growing up in Saskatchewan told me that the noon meal is called “dinner” and the evening meal is called “supper.” I must admit that years of living in other places has me saying “lunch” and “dinner” but that’s not the way I grew up.

Of course the only way to figure out what your assumptions and biases are is to interact with others or travel to new places but this process is essential for ensuring that we can accurately and fairly present Jesus’ truths to the world.

Do you have any idea what your assumptions and biases are?

Feedback is always welcome.

Sharing is what friends do.

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