An Angry Man Called Me Out of Bed This Morning

This morning, barely eight o’clock, the phone rang. The gentleman on the other end asked to speak to Doctor Mirjam Maclean.

Even though I am not a doctor, I said, “speaking” and asked who was calling.

He said his name and repeated that he wished to speak to Mister Mirjam Maclean.

I repeated that was who he was speaking to and asked what this was about.

He became indignant and asked why “he” was refusing to speak to him.

I repeated once more that I was speaking to him and he hung up the phone.

So why this little anecdote?

Because it is a perfect demonstration of people only noticing what they already expect – of our observations being coloured by our expectations.

The back story:

On Saturday the feature article in the newspaper dealt with the ADHD diagnoses of children in schools – a topic close to my heart – and I had written a letter to the editor. Previously, I had on occasion written such a letter, but they were never published. After emailing the letter, a message came up stating the requirements for letters and that the word limit was 200 words. I had believed it to be 300, so convinced that my letter was too long, I had already dismissed the idea that it could appear in the paper.

But apparently it did and apparently, some people start their day a lot earlier than I do.

So this gentleman called and I expected the man on the other side to be asking for my husband, who works from home and is always on the phone with customers. Maybe the request for “doctor” should have alerted me, but I responded only to my name. I am not a doctor and never made a claim of that sort. Had I known about the paper, I would have put two and two together, but as it was, he confused me, so I kept repeating who I was and he kept demanding to speak to a male, no doubt based in his expectations – although the request to speak to a doctor may have been intended sarcastically, because he introduced himself by that title.

Nevertheless, he could not hear me saying “speaking”, because he expected a man and in his anger – he probably did not agree with my letter to the editor – did not listen.

So he disconnected, leaving me wondering who could have known my name and phone number. I only clicked when another gentleman called shortly after and referred to my letter in the paper.

This elderly gentleman was very polite and thanked me for my letter. He explained that in the past, school teachers dealt with bullying in a most effective way – they’d blow their whistle and so draw the attention of every child to the negative behaviour of the bully, which caused them embarrassment.

He also mentioned that schools used to have rules and kids were expected to obey those and if not they were punished for behaving wrongly and not be sent to a doctor to have their brain checked.

This gentleman clearly understood the problem very well, because today children are not attacked for their behaviour, but for their person if they behave in a manner that goes against the expectations of the school. And that was also the topic of the original article in the paper: that children are labelled and medicated for acting differently, so that the message is that they are faulty.

For those who are interested. The original article and my response to it.


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