Checking Our Assumptions
Prolonging the “honeymoon” through openness and wonder
Our Assumptions Often Lead to Unnecessary Suffering
I was hosting a group at my house and a guy showed up who seemed callous and insensitive. He wasn’t reading social cues and he kept treating my cat unfairly. I was angry with him and felt threatened. I had to be really blunt with him to stop chasing my cat.
But after a short conversation I realized that he might be on the Autism spectrum. I asked him about this and he admitted that he really didn’t trust doctors but it was probably true.
The point here is that my initial assumption about the guy—that he was intentionally terrorizing my cat—was ill-informed.
Letting Go of Assumptions Doesn’t Mean Letting Go of Boundaries
This did not excuse his actions toward my cat by any means, but it changed my feelings—instead of feeling threatened and annoyed, I felt directive and compassionate. And as a result it changed the way I communicate.
How many times have I assumed that people are intentionally trying to hurt me when something else is at play? How many times would a different assumption help me react with directiveness and compassion instead of defensiveness and annoyance?
This video captures this idea perfectly—most everyone has problems in their lives, and most harmful actions are not done to personally hurt you.
Tapping into the Mystery of the Moment
Checking our assumptions about another person is one of the most amazing ways to tap into the wonderful mystery of human experience.
Over and over again I have remembered to check my assumptions and been incredibly surprised by the result. Someone who I assumed was suffering from loneliness actually felt deeply nourished by it, someone who seemed confident was deeply insecure, someone who normally loved everything I wrote felt offended by a particular article.
Prolonging the Honeymoon
Holding our assumptions lightly is also one of the most amazing ways to develop intimacy in our relationships.
The fabled “honeymoon” phase of a relationship is in part a result of the fact that we simply cannot assume things about another person—we do not know enough about them yet.
If we want to extend the joyous feeling of discovery that comes to us during this honeymoon, we would do best to drop our assumptions as often as possible.
“Checking In” Rather than “Checking Out”
Of course getting rid of assumptions is a pretty difficult, if not impossible, task. My recommendation instead it to check in with them—not to check out and keep your assumptions to yourself, but literally check them out with the people and situations you are assuming about.
Clearly this has limits—if you assume that heroin is a dangerous drug, I do not recommend checking out this assumption by doing it. But rarely in a relationship with others do checking out the truth of our assumptions have such drastic consequences. And by getting feedback over and over again on what we falsely assumed to be true, we also gain more discernment about the types of assumptions we are often right about.
This will help us in relating with our co-workers, in race relations (checking our assumptions that anyone has or hasn’t suffered from discrimination, or identifies a certain way, or comes from a particular background), even with old friends
Read the Book
Really this is just a summary of the ancient wisdom, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It is just so easy to forget the implied message: “Actually read the book instead.”