Don’t Make Assumptions
When people say things like: “The ocean is beautiful” or “There’s nothing more breathtaking than a sunset” do you ever find yourself robotically agreeing with them without consciously thinking about their statements? This is a common practice.
What if, when you really think about it, you discover you prefer mountains to ocean views, or would rather watch the sun rise than set? Do you know your own opinions? How easy it is to just agree than to be thinking all the time and even more to be feeling and to know what you are feeling? It’s even easy to say, “never allow others to tell you what to think, who you are or what you should be doing with your life”. And yet, we all do it.
The Four Agreements are a spiritual practice based on the ancient wisdom of the Toltecs, a Mexican tribe of wise and knowledgeable people. These agreements teach us a way to be self-directed and ultimately free. So far, we’ve covered – well, actually, we’ve touched on – the first two agreements – they are: Be impeccable with your word –teenagers I once taught summed it up for– only say nice things about yourself or others. Don’t take anything personally – not even the nice things others say about you!
And now we focus on Don’t make assumptions. Most of us don’t think we make assumptions. That’s the trouble; assumptions are assumed… they are not usually conscious.So, today, I’m going to share several examples of assumptions with the intention that we will all become alert to finding our own. Then, I’ll tell you a little bit about what to do with them when you find them.
I’ll start with an old joke: A 70 year old man went to his doctor for a check up and the doctor was amazed at his terrific physical condition. Looking for an explanation in genetics, the doctor said to the man, “how old was your father when he died?”
The man said, “Don’t assume my father is dead. In fact, he’s 90 years old and he still plays golf every day and he walks the course!”
The doctor said, “Well then, how old was your grandfather when he died?” “Don’t assume my grandfather is dead. In fact, he’s 110 and he just got married.” The doctor said, “Why would a man of 110 want to get married.” “Don’t assume he wanted to get married?”
Not all assumptions are funny. False assumptions occur everywhere, and can even be deadly. I believe this story is a true one.
“The confusion began at 6:18 P.M. Monday, when the woman’s landlord called 911, saying he had found her body in her basement apartment. Two technicians—E.M.S. employees with less training than paramedics—arrived within minutes and pronounced her dead at about 7 P.M. They notified the Medical Examiner’s office, which sent an investigator, a doctor, who assumed the woman was dead because the technicians had said so. The investigator had been in the apartment for more than half an hour when he heard what sounded like a single faint breath.”
Needless to say, she was alive.
Now, maybe the doctor should have known better than to assume the technicians’ information was correct, but most false assumptions don’t seem like false assumptions. They seem perfectly logical and reasonable at the time—so logical and reasonable, in fact, that you don’t even realize you’re making an assumption. Which is why it’s so easy for assumptions to create havoc with your good intentions.
Next is the story of a runaway cat – this is a story told by a friend of mine, Naomi Karten, during a seminar she was presenting to a client company. We were discussing how easy it is to make false assumptions and how they can lead you astray in solving problems. Suddenly, a secretary appeared with a message for Tara, a manager in the group. The message was from Tara’s neighbor who had called to say that Tara’s cat, Panther, had gotten out of the apartment and was running around in the hallway of her building.
“Not again!” Tara exclaimed. She said the cat probably dashed out when her cleaning lady opened the door. I told her this was the first time I’d ever had a class interruption caused by a fleeing feline. Fortunately, Tara lived only a few blocks away from work. Her secretary was most accommodating and, as she’d done in previous runaway-cat episodes, offered to go to the apartment, retrieve the cat,
and return it safely to Tara’s apartment.
Which she did and didn’t. That is, she did go over to the apartment. But she didn’t retrieve the cat and return it. Why? It seems it wasn’t Tara’s cat. She’d met Tara’s cat before, and she knew this wasn’t it.
Tara had made an assumption. She had assumed it was her cat. It sounded like her cat. It was the sort of thing her cat had done before. There was no reason for Tara to question the situation before leaping to conclusions. As a result, the idea of calling her neighbor back and asking a few questions to validate that it was her cat never occurred to her. So she didn’t ask what the cat looked like. She didn’t ask where, exactly, it was found. And she didn’t bother to ask if it responded to “Panther.” The odds were that it was her cat. Except that it wasn’t.
The fact that Tara lived nearby eliminated the need to analyze the situation more carefully. It was easy enough to just check it out. If it had been her cat, the problem would have been quickly resolved. And even though it wasn’t her cat, no one had been seriously inconvenienced.
But what if Tara had lived further away? Or her secretary hadn’t been available? Or as accommodating? Or what if the temperature had been 30 below or raining you know what and dogs? Would any of these conditions have caused Tara to challenge her assumptions, or ask some questions, or avoid allowing strong circumstantial evidence to lead her to a false conclusion? Who knows?
False assumptions can create havoc when you assume that you and others mean the same things by what you each say. In important situations, the safest starting point is to assume that they don’t mean what you think they mean and vice versa — until you’ve asked questions, sought clarification, and offered explanations. That way, you are more likely to identify some of the false assumptions that could interfere with a successful outcome.
The next story is from a couple that does relationship seminars. “We just got back from a very powerful workshop on Spiritual Partnerships with Gary Zukav, author of Seat of the Soul, and his spiritual partner Linda Francis.
The great thing about attending a weekend workshop like this is that you get to learn a lot about yourself and your partner. We got to learn about how making simple assumptions can damage relationships very quickly. Simple assumptions that we make about each other and situations can lead to resentment, distance and emotional separation if left unaddressed.
During our 12 hour drive to the workshop, Susie had an apple as a snack. She asked Otto if he wanted an apple. He looked at the apple and saw only one and assumed that that was the only apple in the food bag. Since he wasn’t hungry in that moment, but knew he would be soon, he mistakenly assumed that Susie was about to have the only apple.
A short time later Otto had tortilla chips for a snack instead of the apple he would have preferred. Now he didn’t resent Susie for eating the “last apple” but he silently wished there was another apple to eat instead of the chips. Susie was unaware of his assumption and desire for an apple, and it wasn’t until the food bag was taken to the room and unpacked that three other apples appeared.
If Otto hadn’t assumed that there was only one apple in the bag, he would have had what he really wanted to eat instead of the chips.
Isn’t this what we often do in relationships?
We silently want our relationships to be more passionate, more connected, more loving but we don’t know how to communicate our needs to our partners, our families or our friends.
We assume what we want isn’t available or isn’t possible, without attempting to make the connection and speak our needs in a way that they can be understood.
Sometimes we know what our needs are but don’t express them because we are fearful what the other will say or how he/she will react. So it’s easier to keep silent.
If we don’t communicate consciously and constantly, we start to make assumptions about how the other will react in a given situation and those assumptions are usually dead wrong.
When we make assumptions, we’re not living in the present moment–we are either in the past or in the future.
I suggest that you not make assumptions about how someone else is feeling or thinking in any relationship–no matter how long you’ve been together and how well you know that person.
We are all constantly growing and changing. If we want to grow together instead of growing apart, the most important thing we can do is to constantly communicate, one moment at a time. Decide to consciously create life the way you want it to be instead of allowing it to happen to you. The apple is there if you want it.
So — How do you Steer Clear of False Assumptions?
Keep in mind the one assumption you should always make; namely, that you and others don’t understand each other. Assume that others interpret what you say differently from the way you do, and that they mean something different from what you think they mean. Until you’ve gone through a process of information gathering and assumption challenging, it’s wise to assume that even if the words sound familiar, you’re speaking two different languages.
#2 Don’t minimize the importance of assumption-checking Become more aware of the fact that you and others (customers, partners, ministers, whoever) are making assumptions. One way to develop this awareness is to ask yourself what these assumptions might be. For example:
What assumptions are we making about . . . this project we are discussing . . . the intended outcome . . . the schedule . . . our roles . . our constraints . . . our expectations. . . our criteria for success . . . our priorities?
In most situations, I know I’m probably making an assumption when I hear myself say the words… it happened BECAUSE… and also when I find myself saying I JUST KNOW….
How do you know what you know in life? What’s your criteria for saying something is TRUE? I invite you to question when you say I KNOW it – have you heard yourself say something like – my mother or father told me when I was a child; I read it in the newspaper; or even – Rev. Toni said it last week or in her last book!
You are probably making an assumption when you say I KNOW it’s true…Even if we SEE it with our own eyes–WE INTERPRET – even things we think we are experiencing –can have a different interpretation than the one we give it.
It’s one of the most important Ancient Wisdom – We can’t trust what we SEE to tell us what is real…
Instead of making assumptions – we need to ASK questions. to find out what the other person’s view on something is.
Don Miguel tells us – Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. Leave no communication in question – — and be especially careful of saying things to a third person like — I wonder what HE meant – do you think she meant this. MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS – ASK!!! Verify the TRUTH before you act on it and certainly before you spread it through the grapevine. – not just I have it from a reliable source.
From early on we learn to make assumptions because we think we always have to have an answer not just ANY answer – but the RIGHT answer!
At this moment, I invite all of us to open up to truly loving one another by giving up two things in life – THE NEED TO BE RIGHT – and the NEED TO BE IN CONTROL — both of those are illusions anyway.
In order not to make assumptions, we have to let go of these very basic needs; that’s why this is so tough.
Did you ever find yourself arguing for something that you don’t even know is true? We all have OPINIONS and we take a stand on them as if they were TRUTH. When someone says something I disagree with – I truly work to take on the attitude, THAT’S INTERESTING – and REALLY try to hear why they think what they are thinking rather than ASSUMING I know what they are thinking.
Don’t EVER ASSUME you understand another human
being – or know why he or she is doing what they are doing — the TRUTH is we don’t even understand ourselves.
We all have a set code of ethics that we live by –
What’s important to you in life? Your ASSUMPTIONS are based on – what YOU think is important. I guarantee that if you try to do that list for your spouse, your partner, your best friend – you will probably be WRONG most of the time.
We all make assumptions all the time. Nothing wrong with making assumptions – we just ought to know what they are – and be willing to challenge them in order to grow if they aren’t serving us well.
Whenever you get UPSET, behind the UPSET is usually a FEAR – and a NEED TO BE RIGHT and IN CONTROL…
The best way to PRACTICE this agreement is to catch yourself whenever you get angry, annoyed or agitated (whatever word you use!) – and ask yourself – what NEED is active here – the Need to be Right – or to be In control?
Then, stop and ASK what assumptions am I making? What am I taking personally?
Recognize that we only see and hear what we want to see and hear. Our minds don’t like not understanding something, so we make an assumption about the meaning.
We make assumptions all the time about what other people are doing or thinking what we think they should be doing and thinking. Partners, couples, families, friends assume the other knows what we want, They should know me
If he or she loved me , he or she would know what I want without my telling him — and then when things turns out differently we TAKE IT PERSONALLY
“The day we stop making assumptions with our loved ones, our ways of communicating will change completely “ We know we have stopped making assumptions when we have no more conflicts due to assumptions. We stop taking things personally.
By making this one agreement a habit, our life will be completely transformed.
Without making assumptions, our word becomes impeccable.
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