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Do We Really Know?

Remember that cute little song from nursery school days? “Do you know the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man? Do you know the muffin man who lives in Drury Lane?” We do that to people, don’t we? Identify them by what they do. Presumably the muffin man makes muffins or at least sells them. It’s like the way a mention of Floyd the Barber brings to mind the character from Mayberry. It’s easy to tag someone by her or his occupation: Coach Johnson, Principal Martin, Congressperson Bates, Songwriter Hall, Interior Decorator Young. “Oh yes! I know the muffin man,” the little ditty continues, “the muffin man, the muffin man! Yes, I know the muffin man who lives in Drury Lane.”

This fictional fellow no doubt had a name but seems to be best known by how he made a living. True, our jobs are often a big part of our lives. But our employment isn’t all there is to know about who we are. Haven’t we known a banker who is also a fantastic musician? Or a nurse who raises goats? Or a prison guard who tutors struggling students? We humans are complex creatures, and there is much more to know and understand about us than what is evident on the surface. We can too easily make assumptions about people based on what they do for a living. That’s a great disservice to them and to us. Yes, we may know that the muffin man makes muffins, but is he kind? Patient and fair? Or grumpy and grouchy?

We humans also shortchange ourselves and others when we receive information about a person from someone else and think we then know that person. It is always best to get to know someone through firsthand experience. Often, we discover that we were given false information. Or we’ve been given an opinion of someone filtered through another person’s own bias. Or we’ve gotten only a partial picture of the truth. Engaging directly with a person may yield an entirely different – and much clearer – portrait of who that person is. We may think we know the muffin man based on the muffin man’s public reputation, but do we really know the man who makes muffins?

The more we can let go of our assumptions of people, the freer we will be to discover the truth of who people are. And perhaps there is yet wisdom in the words of a very different song, one once recorded by Stevie Wonder, “I believe that love can save tomorrow, believe the truth can make us free. Someone tried to say it, then we nailed Him to a cross. I guess it's still the way it used to be.”

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