The Side-Effects of Making Assumptions
I wanted to share a story on how I recently 'made an assumption' while speaking to a group of retired women. A local woman asked me to share one of my talks called 'Acceptance versus Agreement' with her women's group. In this talk, I share the a-ha moments that I have experienced while studying and participating in various religious ceremonies and rituals.
The women who booked me felt that this would be a very appropriate topic as the group I was speaking to all lived in an area that has experienced high immigration of non-Christian groups. Some of the members of this group were struggling with the changes this new population was creating in their predominantly Christian community. I knew going into this talk that it would be a touchy subject for most members of this group.
Not "Speaking To The Choir"
I was pleased that I was given this opportunity to talk to this group as one of my passions is 'not speaking to the choir.' In other words, yes, it is often safer to speak to people about a topic that they will likely agree with me about, but deep down, I want to share ideas in a way that makes people go "Hmmm, now there's an idea." OR, "I never thought of it that way before."
As humans, we often fear what we don't know or understand. So, I hoped to help people experience freedom from the fears ignorance can create by sharing my experiences from being with other religious groups during my talk.
My Example On How I Made An Assumption
Throughout my talk to this group of about 100 ladies, I noticed a woman in a bright coral top rolling her eyes numerous times. I kept glancing at her and she appeared to be feeling disgusted. It looked like she was trying to find support from her fellow table mates.
I was not sure if she did not believe what I was sharing about other religious groups or if she was upset over my gentle suggestion of being more compassionate and tolerant of how others feed themselves spiritually.
I found myself distracted over her obvious annoyance around my message and talk. It was clear she was upset with what I was saying, and it was obvious she was not my biggest fan.
When the talk was over, I had several women come up to me to share their appreciation of my photos and information about Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews as well as the other religious groups they confessed they knew little about. They said they found it very helpful as some of my stories explained why people in their community do some of the things they have witnessed with uncertainty and sometimes discomfort.
As I went to pack up my computer, I thought I must go over and speak to the lady in coral. I try to make a point of reaching out to anyone I sense may have been uncomfortable during my talks.
I then noticed that the break time was wrapping up and the ladies were ready to start their members- only meeting. I decided I needed to head out quickly. Just as I was approaching the door, I saw the woman in coral come towards me. I thought 'Ok here it comes, she is going to tell me why it is ok for her to be upset with these other religious groups in her community and why she was upset with some of the things I shared'.
The lady in coral came over and opened her mouth with a big smile and said, "That was lovely. I really appreciated hearing everything you talked about. You know most of those things I didn't know. Thank you for that. You're an excellent speaker."
It hit me just then that I made an assumption about what she was thinking or feeling while listening to my talk. I laughed to myself over how certain I was that I had read her facial expressions correctly. As humans I find it is so easy for us to make assumptions. When in fact we don't know what a person is feeling or thinking or going through.
How Many Times Do We Make Assumptions In A Day?
As I walked out to the parking lot I pondered over...
How many times a day do I make assumptions?
How many times have I assumed why a child behaved in a difficult way? How many times have I made assumptions over a person walking past me on the street or sitting in Starbucks?
How many times have I assumed that I know why my child did not do the task I asked?
Why my husband is being particularly quiet?
Oh yes, the endless trap of seeing others through our beliefs, stories, and perceptions.
We Suffer When We Make Assumptions
In my counseling practice, as well as in my day to day life, I often hear people share a story that involves telling me what someone was thinking.
When I ask them, "How do you know that? Is that true?" I will hear a response like, "Well it was so obvious, I mean I know they don't like me… I could tell by the way she rolled her eyes…She thinks she is better than everyone else..."
Using the teachings of Byron Katie, I will often follow up with this question: "Can you absolutely know that that is true?"
This question is an invitation for us to go deeper. It invites us to witness our own assumptions. After asking that question, people who are ready can begin to see the self-inflicted pain their assumptions have created on themselves.
Other People's Assumptions About Me Is None Of My Business
About 10 years ago I was in Toronto listening to Wayne Dyer speak. During his talk, I heard him say "what other people think of me is none of my business." I remember having a feeling like someone just woke me up from a nightmare. I was like "What? Really? Is that possible?"
'Wouldn't it be negligent of me if I did not worry about what other people thought about me?' I remember thinking after his talk about how I never want to upset anyone. I always thought that thinking about what others are thinking is a way to make sure everyone is happy right?
Hearing Wayne Dyer speak has saved me from the eternal suffering I was in when I was preoccupied with wondering what others thought about me.
In the past, I would make assumptions about what other people thought about me. Unfortunately, I would rarely make positive assumptions about what others were thinking. This was self-sabotaging. I find most humans frequently assume the worst. These painful stories put us in a constant state of suffering.
Painful Assumption Can Be Mirroring Back Our Issues to Investigate
I wish I could say, "I am done with making assumptions" but unfortunately, it is something I have to continue to work on. Why? Because I am human.
We never stop keeping our minds healthy and clean.
Our painful assumptions are how we see ourselves.
Instead of beating myself up when I find myself making a painful assumption, I use it as an opportunity for deeper self-awareness. What I have found is that painful assumptions are mirroring back at us. Our painful assumptions are how we see ourselves. Why did I assume the woman in coral was upset with me? Why did I assume she was going to challenge what I said? Is it possible that deep down I was judging myself as incompetent? Absolutely.
You Spot It You Got It
I have sought out answers from various spiritual leaders over the years. I remember one time I was complaining to one of my spiritual mentors about someone else. He smiled and said, "You spot it you got it." Of course, I stopped in my tracks and instantly felt defensive.
My mind reached for all the reasons I was not like this person. He then added, "You can't see what you don't already know, you can't see what you have not experienced yourself. We manifest challenging people into our lives to mirror back to us what we need to look at within ourselves. You may not have behaved exactly like this person, but there is something in this story that you own. What is it?"
I remember I was on a mission to prove him wrong. When I finally decided just to start looking within and notice what was going on when I felt upset with someone else, I discovered this was the path to freedom. I no longer needed to understand, overanalyze and then plan to change or fix someone else. I could just discover the gift in this for me.
What Are You Assuming About Others?
I have noticed a pattern in humans. Whatever they assume others are thinking is what they are thinking about themselves.
If we are in a situation we feel confident in; we often will assume others are ok with our performance or we may not even give it much thought at all. However, in moments when we are sabotaging ourselves, that is when we make negative assumptions about what others are thinking. For example, when we are feeling insecure we may assume, "They think I am not good at this.." When we are feeling unloveable, we might make the assumption that "She would never want to go out with me." When we see ourselves as unattractive, we may think, "He thinks I am fat." or if we are feeling inferior to the people around us, we may think or say, "They think they are better than me." Does this line of thinking sound familiar?
What's Your True Story?
We all have a story about ourselves that is missing clarity. This is the story we put on our resume and social media posts and Christmas letters. However, we all have stories that we may or may not be consciously connected to. How do you become aware of these stories?
Notice what you see and say about others.
Notice what you hear yourself assuming about what other people are thinking. That is the path to greater self-awareness. If you are brave enough to investigate this further, if you are willing to take responsibility for the painful stories you have about yourself, then you will begin to release them.
As you heal your own mind, it will amaze you on how people and events suddenly start to change.
The Gift in Assumptions
I do my best to avoid making assumptions about what others are thinking. I even remind myself it is none of my business what others think about me. However, I have also noticed that when I do make assumptions, negative assumptions over what others are thinking, I can choose to suffer and believe the other person is creating my suffering or I can get curious and wonder what part of this assumption do I own?
What, as my mentor would ask, have I spotted that I got? When I discover the answer, when I truly am ready to own whatever it is, I feel instant freedom. I feel empowered and grateful for the deeper self-awareness. It is almost always accompanied by laughter.
The next time you find yourself making a painful assumption, will you choose to sit in misery, projecting blame on the other, or will you notice the red flag labeled "investigate this" and see where it takes you?
Thank you, lady, in coral, for allowing me to investigate a painful story I had about myself. What a gift!