My mom recently visited me from out of state and gave one piece of advice to my partner and I. She said, “Sweetie, no matter what you do, do NOT make assumptions that you know what each other is thinking.” My mom reminded me this was one of The Four Agreements, a book by Don Miguel Ruiz. She shared her own stories of how it hurts when others put words in your mouth and do not take the time to actually talk with you and listen to find out what you are truly thinking.
The old saying rings true, “To assume makes an ass out of you and me.” At least this is how I feel when I wrongly accuse or guess something on which I have no grounds to stand on. There have been several instances where this advice would have come in handy since it was given to me, but did I listen? Noooooo! Okay. No. I didn’t. But did I learn my lesson? Yeeessss!
I’d like to dive into the idea behind making assumptions. Where do we get these ideas in the first place? Well, I know for me, my thoughts about what will happen or how someone else may respond to something has always come from my past experiences. Even though, sometimes we are often accurate in our guesses because of the past, this does not mean that every time we will get the same result.
Another way that people make assumptions is based solely on appearances. Let’s say there are two students in a high school science class that you can choose between to pick as your lab partner. One is dressed in sweatpants and a concert t-shirt and their hair is a mess like they just got out of bed; while the other student is wearing glasses, has their clothes neatly tucked in, and their hair is styled and combed. Just by this alone, one might assume that the student wearing glasses is smarter or cares more about school because they bothered to look nice. For all that we know the student who looks nice may be smart and well dressed but maybe their best subject isn’t science. For all that we know, the one that looks sloppy is super tired because they stayed up all night reading the science homework and is ready to ace this project. Why do we make judgement on appearances? Perhaps, if we took the time to talk to each student and ask them the same questions, it would be clear which student we would want to pick as our lab partner.
Silly example, maybe. But we do this as adults all the time. We make assumptions because of appearance, cultural background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc. We label and name call, we judge, and make generalizations and stereotypes. It has become second nature. Let’s dig a little deeper, shall we? How do we change something that is so ingrained in us?
Well, where does anything begin? It can only begin with yourself. Our judgments come from our own personal beliefs. Some of these beliefs are passed down from our parents and our grandparents, others from mentors like teachers, and then of course our peers. These are our influences as we grow into adults and then it is simply through our own experiences that we develop new thoughts, but most often we hold on to our deeply-held beliefs from childhood. So one very important tool that we must observe constantly is our mind. Besides judging others, are we constantly judging ourselves? Listen to your “self-talk” and what you are saying. Are your thoughts self-defeating or self-empowering? Do you put yourself down or build yourself up? Are you judging or honoring yourself? Again, if we can learn to understand where these thoughts come from and why we might be thinking them, then we can begin to re-train ourselves to stop doing that or to re-place the negative thoughts with more positive ones.
Let’s move on to the scenario of our interactions with others. Let’s say the interaction is with a significant other (or a family member). Are we making assumptions because it is easier to guess what the other is thinking and so we put our own twisted thoughts into their mouths rather than actually walk over and talk with another human being? Are we afraid to be vulnerable, to be wrong, to bruise our precious egos? Sometimes, we think the worst and so we try to avoid conflict all together and decide it is best to just keep it to ourselves, but as a result we turn passive aggressive and resentful when we don’t ask questions and vocalize our concerns. Often, it turns out the other person was not thinking anywhere close to what we assumed they were and if they were it is usually good to get it out into the open where both people can feel better once they are each heard and take time to listen to each other. The best option of all is to just talk with one another and find out the truth instead of talking about the problem to everyone else or making assumptions about our distorted reality.
Lastly, I’d like to discuss the idea of mindfulness. Something, I am eager to practice more of. The practice of mindfulness is to observe without judgments. We may be sitting on a park bench and notice someone is walking past us with white tennis shoes and a red backpack, but we make no judgment about who that person is or where they are going. We just notice. We see geese eating in the grass and squirrels running up and down the tree trunks, and kids playing in the park, but we make no judgments. We see couples holding hands, many cultures coming together to enjoy one park, but we make no judgments. This is a wonderful practice to clear your mind of all judgments and just notice everything around you without assigning thoughts and stories to them.
Since everyone struggles with making assumptions, I knew it would be good to get more insight on the subject, so I discussed it with my partner and the ideas came pouring out as we talked. We too struggle with communication at times until we choose to be vulnerable about our thoughts and our feelings. Once we do tell the other what our needs are, we make a lot of effort to meet each of our own needs either together or separate so that once again we feel valued and whole. When you feel afraid to speak with someone, remember that the best result will come from talking with each other and asking questions instead of making assumptions. Go to the source instead of asking everyone else what they think, besides the one person. I struggle with this one when I am wanting to avoid conflict, but in return, it comes out as gossip when I am simply trying to work through something. I need to go to the source and ask or talk instead of worrying about all the thousands of things it could be. Assume nothing. THE END. 🙂