Last week, somebody driving by our house called Animal Control on us. They reported that our dog was outside without any water in his water bowl. Animal Control came out to find not only a full water dish but also my family playing with him. Clearly, our adopted dog, who we took with us all the way from Florida, is not neglected.
But someone assumed he was. They couldn’t see a water bowl so assumed it wasn’t there. They didn’t know we work from home and have an open-door policy with our dog, allowing him to come inside or go outside as he pleases (just a bark is all we need), so they assumed he was outside by his lonesome all day.
We often assume the worst about other people in daily life. We don’t have the facts, so we make them up to form a narrative that makes sense to us. And our narratives, like our television and movie plot lines, veer into dark territory. The guy in the car accident was probably drunk. The married coworker without the wedding ring is probably having an affair. And the dog outside in the daytime is probably neglected.
It’s impossible to understand others’ lives — the ones they live 24/7 — by observing for a few moments as we drive on by.