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Challenge Your Assumptions - Open Your Mind
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Most mornings Maggie and I walk about four miles; most of it around Tall Pines Golf Course in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Maggie is my ten year old German Shepherd who is an expert at eating cat poop and chasing tennis balls. When we first started, around April of 2015, I met a nice elderly fellow - Van. I believe Van is a retired science teacher and he is pushing 80. Van goes in a clockwise direction and I go counter-clockwise so I run into him most every morning and sometimes twice depending on location and speed. Many mornings Van and I will chat and solve world problems. If you sense things getting better that means Van and I have been successful; if not, the ones in power obviously did not listen to us. 

There is another man who walks the course at that hour. Robert is an African-American fellow who is in his late 70's. Most of you young folks would be proud to walk at Robert's pace. He is a tall man and wears rubber boots with his pants tucked inside and a dust mask, I imagine for the pollen. Robert would wave each morning but he would always keep his distance. Many times he needed to change his course in order to keep the distance from us. He always waved but obviously he did not want to come socialize. Perhaps he just wanted to be alone and I'm good with that. It did cross my mind that he might be afraid of Maggie. 

About eight months ago Robert and I rounded a corner going in opposite directions and there we were in the same space. I could see the immediate horror in his face as he saw Maggie. Maggie turned and looked at me as if to say, "Okay Dad, what is the plan here?" I calmly said, "Maggie, be nice and go say hi." She lowered her ears and head and walked over to Robert, her head to the side and her tail in a slow wag. She gently rubbed his leg like a cat would do and lifted her chin so Robert could scratch her if he chose to. Robert reached down and petted Maggie. He was visibly relieved. He petted Maggie some more, we greeted one another and went our separate ways. 

A few days later Robert saw us and instead of avoiding us, he waved and headed in our direction. When he got within 20 yards Maggie trotted over to greet him and he petted and talked to her. He had found a new friend. We walked together for a while and he said; 

"You know I have been avoiding you all this time because I was afraid of your dog. I now know she is very friendly and nice." 

I replied, "Maggie invalidated your assumptions didn't she?"

Robert looked at me like I had three heads. He thought a moment. A smile came over his face. 

"I guess she did." And he laughed.

Robert no longer avoids us; in fact he seeks us out. 

Last week Van and I were solving the world's problems at the south end of the pond near the 16th tee box. Robert walked by and saw us and he changed his direction so he would head in our direction.

Maggie went down to where Robert was so she could walk with him to where we were standing. Robert then gave both Van and I a warm handshake and a big hug. It was unexpected but really nice. He joined in the discussion. Three old guys and an old dog just out there on a sunny morning enjoying nature and one another's company. This is how life is supposed to be - those precious moments. 

Here is the point - that nice moment would have never occurred if Robert's erroneous assumption about German Shepherds had not been invalidated. He would have never come over the where we were. 

It is also important to note that Robert did not choose to have his assumption invalidated - it was caused by an accidental encounter. He would have NEVER chosen to meet Maggie on his own. 

We see and hear what we believe. We do not believe what we see and hear. What you and I see and hear for the most point is predetermined by our biases. And we all have biases. If you do not believe that go on Facebook and look up some of your pals that have different political beliefs than you. 

I would like to encourage you to do your best to test your assumptions. Hang out with someone you normally do not hang out with and try to listen in order to understand; not in order to respond. It is really tough but it can certainly be worth the effort. Good things can come of challenging assumptions. 

I have an entire chapter devoted to biases and how to deal with them in my book What I Learned About Leadership From My Dog. I would love for you to get a copy either by going to our website or

John Covington

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