We are often told to never make assumptions as they often turn out to be incorrect. The phrase 'assumption is the mother of all 'mistakes', has been used more than once in movies and television. Despite the prevalent idea that making assumptions is in fact a negative and regressive practice, people continue to do it. The question is Why?
Consider the nature of an assumption and what it actually is. Assumption from a certain standpoint is the opposite of hindsight.
With Hindsight we look back at an experience, already knowing the outcome, then make the necessary adjustments to ensure we learn from that experience.
Whereas with assumption, we make adjustments prior to knowing the truth or result, often denying the development of true awareness, knowledge and wisdom.
The definition of assumption based on a quick browser search is- 'a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof'. Lets take a closer look at this definition for the purpose of illuminating this subject further. Based on this definition, what do you perceive to be problematic with the practice of making assumptions?
Lets consider a few common examples and how they may play out in the real world.
A person is late for work and is immediately scolded by their superior upon arrival. They then proceed to explain that there was an accident and that they tried to save someone from a burning car, but unfortunately they arrived too late to the scene.
A person from a particular faith is treated with caution and apprehension, the assumption being, they are a potential danger and threat to others. After a brief conversation with this person, you realise they are in fact a positive and considerate human being who is actually employed as a charity worker.
We draw our attention to a wealthy individual and assume the the only way they could have made it to the top is through luck, crushing others and a nice inheritance. Upon reading their biography we discover the truth behind their wealth. They actually endured several years of failure, suffering and struggle prior to their success; that the road to the top was littered with sacrifice and emotional pain.
Someone tells you that you look really nice today. You assume the true meaning to be that you look horrible every other day. The person walks away believing they just complimented you, but is oblivious to the fact that you were highly offended and have now taken a disliking to them.
Imagine you are having a mildly heated discussion with your partner and then the phone cuts out. They may have run out of battery and have no way to immediately charge their phone. Meanwhile you become enraged believing they hung up on you and are now ignoring your calls.
These are just a few examples of how assumptions can alter our perception of the world and those around us. The most unfortunate aspect of negative assumption in relation to social interaction, is that it often makes one person feel bad and paints the other as something they are not.
When we assume the negative about another person, we are in fact convicting somebody without trial. The negative assumption often leads to a shift in perception, and emotional strain. If we assume the worst about another person prior to uncovering any supporting evidence, we unfairly alter our perception of that particular persons character.
The problem lies in the fact that most people consider assumptions to be almost passive and innocent in effect; when they are anything but. Every negative and false assumption made about a specific person, situation or circumstance, compounds the next, eventually leading to a dramatically altered perception. People seldom realize that each negative assumption is reinforcing the last, slowing leading them down a path that will influence their behaviour significantly. Some assumptions may eventually be proven to be true, however, it is unfair to commit emotion and belief to an assumption prior to the relevant supporting evidence being uncovered.
When making an assumption about a person, thing, situation or circumstance, it is important to begin from a point of positive perception, belief and projection.
If someone is late to work- assume they may have been delayed by a bad accident
If someone doesn't return your call right away- assume they may be so busy, that they either innocently forgot to call you back or maybe their phone ran out of battery.
If someone gives you the silent treatment or lashes out angrily- assume that they may be going through difficult times beyond your awareness.
A positive assumption doesn't excuse bad behaviour, it isn't about denial nor is it an ignorant or naive position to take, it is simply a positive re-frame a delay until further evidence can be uncovered. A positive assumption encourages positive emotion, whereas a negative assumption encourages negative emotion. This is an important point to acknowledge. If you make a negative or false assumption, whether it turns out to be true or not, you will feel the associated negative emotion. In other words, you basically make yourself feel horrible for no reason whatsoever. It would be like feeling hatred and anger towards someone who has been accused of heinous crimes, only to find out later that they were in fact innocent. 'Emotion before evidence'. A truly self destructive mechanism and practice.
In the end, it doesn't matter which assumption eventually turns out to be true, the point is to ensure we remain positive, balanced and reasonable when there is no reason to feel anything different.
Assumptions are often a projection of our own beliefs based on our individual conditioning. They are sometimes designed to protect us and sometimes they are based on pure ignorance.
An example of an ignorant assumption is- treating people from a particular race differently based on negative stereotypes.
An example of assumption for the purpose of protection is- assuming you are too dumb to successfully complete a course, so you choose to avoid it altogether; therefore, you remain safe from the risk of failure and the possibility of proving this assumption to be correct.
The subject of positive assumption is deceivingly complex, but it can be broken down into a simple approach and rule.
The Rule of Positive Assumption- Always, without fail, choose to assume the positive about people, things, situations and circumstances, prior to uncovering irrefutable evidence contrary to that assumption.
It is still pertinent at times to investigate until you uncover the truth as the truth does in fact matter. There is also an exception to the rule when self preservation and common sense are concerned. Don't assume the positive about obvious risks. If a deranged lunatic is running at you with a knife, it would be safe to assume that they aren't in a hurry to cut up some vegetables for a meal. But did I just assume they were deranged? Nevertheless, you get my point.
Practice and encourage positive assumption whenever and wherever possible. If all individuals chose to do this, the world we live in would almost certainly be a more patient, calm, reasonable, fair, forgiving and considerate place to live.