Remember that elementary school adage about making assumptions? How it makes “an ass out of you and me”? In reality, it seems to me that assuming things really only makes an ass of the person making the assumption — not so much the person assumptions are being made about.
Sure, putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes can be helpful as we work toward achieving empathy for each other, but it can also lead us to a place where we end up judging their behavior. (Kind of the opposite of that empathy we were going for…)
The idea of assumptions has been on my mind lately, in large part because I’m trying to kick that habit to the curb. After all, the older I get and the more life experience I gain, the more I take to heart the fact that 1) most of us are doing the best we can and 2) we really don’t have any idea what others are going through and what drives their decisions.
I like to think of myself as an accepting, non-judgmental person, but I’ve been noticing recently how quickly I go to this place of making assumptions. It happens subconsciously, but it still happens. I observe someone’s behavior and try to make sense of it, applying my own lens to help it come into focus. But the thing is, my lens is irrelevant to others. It’s just that — MY perspective and MY experience. Who am I to think (*assume*) that others should respond to things the same way I think I would? (Plus, I rarely have all the information that’s critical to truly understanding the full situation to begin with.)
My guess is we’re all guilty of this — from time to time or perhaps quite often. After all, we’re all trying to make sense of the world around us — and the people in it — constantly. I don’t think it usually comes from a place of ill intent. But the thing is it’s usually not helpful, and can quickly lead us to a place of gossip or judgment or misinterpretation about people — often people we care about.
It’s one thing if close friends or family “let us in” and share personal experiences, giving us necessary context and perhaps even asking for our input or advice. I’m not talking about those situations so much as everyday observations we make about others — perhaps those we’re friendly with or see frequently (either in person OR online) but not quite as close to as our good friends and family members.
I don’t know if I’m doing a good job articulating this, but here’s my main point: I’m working on being more conscious of my thoughts and on quieting the part of my brain that jumps straight to making assumptions. Instead, I’m trying to give people the benefit of the doubt when I see them make decisions I view as questionable. I’m trying to ask more questions and take the time to connect with people more — not to pry, but to remind me that we’re all multi-layered. I’m trying to stay in my lane and worry about my own life, my own decisions, my own priorities.
It’s a work in progress, but I think it’s work well worth doing.