“Should one of you boys happen upon a girl who doesn’t put out, do not jump to the conclusion that you have found a lady. What you have probably found is a lesbian.” ~ Author Fran Lebowitz
Jumping to conclusions can lead to some uncomfortable landings. Or, as British historian Philip Guedella put it, “People who jump to conclusions rarely alight on them.”
For example, San Jose Mercury News columnist Patty Fisher once wrote the following about Morgan Hill: “It just goes to show that you can do just about anything you want in Morgan Hill — if you have enough money, prestige and time.” Fisher jumped to that conclusion based on iffy — at best — accusations about the American Institute of Mathematics project. Even if those accusations had been completely justified (they weren’t), the conclusion to which Fisher jumped was completely unjustifiable.
Fisher’s unfair, absurd conclusion irked me as a Morgan Hill resident and as a critical thinker, but it’s certainly not the only time this bad habit — and sign of sloppy thinking — appears in public discourse. If you regularly offer opinions in a public arena, you’ll repeatedly have the unpleasant experience of people jumping to incorrect conclusions about you.
I oppose the extension of BART to San Jose. I cannot tell you how many people have jumped to the conclusion that I’m anti-public transit because I oppose this extension. Problem is, I’m not. I think a vital public transit system is an important component of a vital community, for lots of reasons. Extending BART is just not the best way to achieve that goal. We’ve chosen the very-expensive-to-build and very-expensive-to-operate BART extension over other less-expensive options, which I’ve touted in this column and would be be happy to support on a ballot if only I’d been given the chance to vote on them.
I strongly support the Constitution’s separation of church and state. And before you write to tell me that those words aren’t in the Constitution, yes, I know that. Those words are a shorthand way of describing a concept that’s clearly there. The words “right to a fair trial” aren’t in the Constitution. The words “religious freedom” aren’t in the Constitution. If you want to argue that there’s no constitutional separation of church and state on “those words aren’t in the Constitution” grounds, you’d better argue at the same time that Americans also don’t have a right to a fair trial or religious freedom for the same reason, or you’re intellectually dishonest.
But I digress. Because I strongly support the Constitution’s separation of church and state, people often jump to the conclusion that I’m anti-religious. This leapt-to conclusion, of course, completely ignores the fact (and my frequent highlighting of it) that the separation of church and state protects the most religious among us.
Because I frequently highlight problems with the pay and benefits that taxpayers provide to public employees, people have jumped to the conclusion that I’m anti-public employee. I’m not. I know and have dealt with many hard-working, good public employees. What I oppose are unreasonable retirement packages and incestuous, conflict-of-interest laden compensation systems for public employees that don’t use private-sector comparables for setting salaries and benefit packages.
Because I’ve asked difficult questions about how Morgan Hill Redevelopment Agency funds have been spent, people have jumped to the conclusion that I’m anti-RDA. I’m not. I think that Gilroy, which doesn’t have an RDA, missed an important opportunity to keep more tax dollars in its coffers when Gilroyans voted not to approve an RDA years ago. Instead, I’m in favor of careful spending of RDA money and believe that taxpayers have a duty to ensure that those funds are being spent wisely by elected officials.
An equally frustrating variation on this theme also occurs frequently. Often when I disagree with someone, that person jumps to the conclusion that I didn’t listen to, consider or understand their viewpoint. Rather, as I’ve written before, if two people examine the same data critically but reach different conclusions, it’s a reflection of differing priorities and not a reflection of listening or comprehension skills.
Careful thinkers — critical thinkers — know that jumping to conclusions is a bad practice that can often lead to incorrect judgments. Get your brain some exercise by not using it to jump to conclusions.
“The only exercise I excel at is jumping to conclusions.” ~ Author James Nathan Miller