Default Open

From Assumptions to Understanding


Louis Moeller, Different Opinions, High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

While returning home from my company offsite, I was standing in the TSA line, placing my belongings into the gray bins. It was then that a question caught me off guard.

“Have you ever been on a flight?”

I froze, my hands mid-air, gripping my shoes. The question, coming from a man in his thirties behind me, felt like a jab, wrapped in a thin veil of innocence. Why would he ask that? Was it my slightly fumbled handling of the trays, or had I committed some cardinal sin of air travel in his eyes?

“Yes, I have,” I responded, the words laced with a defensive edge. His question had pricked at something, a mix of annoyance and curiosity. Was it so apparent that I was out of my element, or was he just being snarky?

“It’s my first flight,” he then confessed, his tone shifting, revealing a mix of excitement and nervousness. “I wasn’t sure if my bag needs to go in the tray.”

In that moment, my assumptions hung heavily between us. The question wasn’t a snarky jab but a genuine plea for guidance, cloaked in the vulnerability of a first-time flyer. I had been so quick to assume malice, to paint his curiosity as a critique, that I nearly missed the human element, the shared experience of navigating unfamiliar territories.

“Yes, they are expecting the bags to be on the tray,” I found myself saying, the words coming out more as a realization of my own hasty judgment. I added, “Hope you have a great first flight!”

This encounter, brief and seemingly inconsequential, served as a profound lesson. It reminded me that our assumptions, especially those tinged with defensiveness, can cloud our judgment, that behind every question lies a story, a context we might not immediately understand.

As I watched him walk towards his gate, I was reminded just earlier in the offsite how my team and I were discussing how we admired Reddit’s “Default Open” value. This moment underscored the importance of giving others the benefit of the doubt, of approaching interactions with default openness. For in the end, we are all navigating our own journeys, sometimes confidently, sometimes with hesitation, but always moving forward, one question at a time.

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