Someone recently asked me what I had learned from an intensive course I attended. The first thought that came into my head was the word ‘assumptions’. I wasn’t certain I could, or wanted to, answer the question because the word so quickly popped into my brain I was feeling a bit mystified about it. I successfully managed to evade the question but that word hasn’t left me. In fact I’ve been thinking constantly about assumptions.
WHAT I REALISED
I make lots of assumptions every day, probably constantly, and mostly (I’m certain) they are unconscious thoughts whirling around in my brain. In fact the more I have thought about this the more I think everybody makes assumptions – or is that an assumption of mine? Perhaps it’s a projection, but that’s for another time!
Yes it’s true, I make up stories in my mind about what others are thinking, feeling or doing. Where they have come from, where they are going. If someone seems rude (from my observation or directly toward me) I can make a very rapid assumption they don’t like me or that I’ve done something to offend them. If someone bumps into me on a busy street I can assume they don’t care about others and that they’re selfish and horrible. If someone doesn’t smile back or greet me as I greet them I assume they are always grumpy and miserable.
WHAT’S TRUE & WHAT’S NOT
Some of my assumptions may be spot on (slim chance) however the actual truth of this matter is that not one of my assumptions is real or true. They might be but the chances of my assumptions being accurate are pretty slender. Assuming is presuming I know what’s going on for another person and in another persons life. Whether someone is a friend or a total stranger I really have no clue what is truly, and accurately, going on in the intricate details of their life. Yet I can make decisions about these people based on my assumptions. Bizarre isn’t it? Yet we all do it.
Until someone actually tells me what’s going on for them in their lives, I have no facts to support my assumptions. Assumptions are not productive for friendships or any form of relationship or relating. It’s counter-productive to bridging the gap which already exists, and is getting bigger, between human beings.
Emails and text messages are right up there at the top of the list for increasing our assumption-making. How many times have we totally misinterpreted and assumed something and subsequently got it totally wrong? Someone being short, direct, pointed and clear in a written or spoken manner simply may be short on time and need to get a message across efficiently. NOT that they are angry or annoyed with me. Some people attempt humour via the written word and fail spectacularly with all sorts of weird assumptions being the result – I think I fall into this category.
WHAT I LEARNED
So I learned that I do assume a lot of things about people I don’t know as well as those I do know. From this I learned that my assumptions are not only fabrications from my own lived experience, most of the time they are false and – here’s the big one – they are a complete and utter waste of my time. Because we don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s life does not give us the right to make up stories about them. That’s treading into dangerous territory.
You may be reading this thinking “nope, not me, I never assume”. Pause a moment and consider what you’ve been thinking about the person (yes me!) who has written this article – chances are you have some assumptions based on your own experiences that have not one thing to do with me, nor would they be true for me.
Sure assumptions are harmless enough if kept to ourselves. Sadly most people can’t, and don’t, keep their assumptions to themselves. If we allow our assumptions to roam ‘free range’ in our minds then we can come to believe there is truth in them. This is counter-productive, unhealthy & damages our ability to effectively connect with ourselves & others.