We make assumptions everyday about a variety of things; most, unconsciously. They just pop into our minds and we may not even know that we have made them. Sometimes they serve us: you are hungry so you stop at a fast food restaurant expecting that they have food. And sometimes they don’t: a car salesman judging a customer by his clothing and shoes misses out on a big sale by assuming that he can’t afford his inventory.
We make assumptions so that our minds can interpret what we are seeing, hearing, touching, tasting or smelling. We use the assumptions to explain the input our brain is receiving.
But in many situations, it can be problematic to assume. It can hinder a relationship when you assume something about another person. Assuming that you know how somebody else is feeling about you or a situation is something we probably all do, but those assumptions are based on our own life experiences and preferences and not the other persons.
As an example, if you are a pet owner who loves your animals so much that you really struggle with the loss when they die, you might assume that somebody who has just lost a pet will be sad and grieving. But what if that other person had become burdened in some way by caring for a pet (financially or health wise)? They may actually feel a sense of relief when that burden is lifted. Your assumption is based on your personal perspective; not on the realities of the other person’s situation.
We make assumptions about people based on what we see, hear and, yes, smell and then those assumptions get translated into judgments. Before we even know the person that we are judging our mind has labeled them. And can any of us say, with all sincerity, that we have not treated people differently based our judgment of them? Can you honestly say that you haven’t reacted based on those quick-as-lightning assumptions?
I’m not saying that those assumptions and judgments don’t sometimes protect us and keep us safe. But that is not the only time we react to them.
One thing that I like to challenge myself with when I make an assumption is, ‘What else could it mean?’ If I make the assumption that the driver who cut me off on the highway was trying to kill me, that’s pretty extreme. What else could it mean? Maybe they truly just did not see me (it happens to all of us) and now feel bad. Maybe they are hurrying to the hospital because a loved one is hurt; not an excuse to cut you off, but they were NOT trying to kill you. Maybe their brakes aren’t working! Ok, not likely, but possible (remember Toyota’s stuck accelerator issue??)
Since I introduced my husband to this ‘What else could it mean?’ concept, he likes to use this at work for the difficult situations and communications that come across his desk every day. I believe that e-mail communications lend themselves to misinterpretation and false assumptions. So, stop, think, and challenge the reaction before you respond!
“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t judge a person unless you have talked to him one-on-one.” Until you allow yourself the opportunity to understand another person’s situation and reality how can you think that you know?
One of my greatest opportunities to practice this over the summer has come from an outreach my church provides. On the second Friday of the month for 4 months, we hold a ‘Courtyard Café’ for the people of the city of Reading, PA. Mind you, Reading was deemed, during the last census, to be the poorest city in the nation so you can imagine that we have our challenges.
Our café is open and free to all. Hamburgers are grilled in the courtyard to go along with potato chips, baked beans and macaroni salad. The watermelon is always a big hit. And then there are drinks and desert.
We have gone through as many as 100 hamburgers (plus hotdogs for those who prefer) on especially busy days. We served about 150 people at last weeks Café!
Many kinds of people wander into the courtyard to join us. There are homeless people, people with mental illnesses and local businessmen and women. We get families with children who love to draw with the chalk on the sidewalk. We have folks show up, eat and then go get their friends. And we have those who hang around to take away any leftovers so that they might have another meal that day.
And with every face that comes through the line, each of us serving gets the opportunity to put our assumptions aside, offer a smile and serve without judgment. We have folks sharing tables that might not ordinarily sit down together. We get a glimpse into the life of another……while asking ourselves ‘What else could it mean?’
I think that when I challenge myself in this way, I allow myself to open up to opportunities that I would not otherwise have had. I might gain a new perspective, a new idea, a new piece of information or, a new friend.
What assumptions do you need to challenge in your life?
On the journey with you…….Kathy
If you would like to put your brain to the test regarding assumptions, check out these riddles. I did so-so……
(Quote: Age 11- The Complete Live and Learn and Pass It On, by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.)
What a man believes may be ascertained, not from his creed, but from the assumptions on which he habitually acts. George Bernard Shaw