Assumptions About Others

If you think about it, there’s so little in our world that we really understand. From the very nature of matter, mass, human psychology, and the universe, much of our reality is more unknown than understood. That space of not knowing can be a difficult place to sit. Optimally, not knowing provides a sense of wonder and awe. At worst, that space feels overwhelming, even scary. Humans seem to have a tendency to create explanations in attempt to understand the unknown.

It’s not just heaven and earth that I make assumptions about. I believe I make assumptions all day long, explaining the inconsistencies and unknown minutiae that populate my day.  My knowing assumptions make sense and order of the unknown so that I can move on. Most of those assumptions are probably inconsequential: the stranger next to me is safe; my car is in good working condition; I do not have any major lurking health issues; our kids have what they need. But which is not?

We may have limited power to turn those knowing assumptions into facts. I might be able to google the definition of a new word, but I can attain only a limited certainty about my health with my annual check ups. I can check in with my kids to make sure they’re doing well, but I don’t have access to their inner world. Nor may they. For that matter, parts of my inner world are not accessible to me either; more vast reaches of unknown space.

We may be able to turn precious few knowing assumptions into fact. For the rest, being less certain and more curious about the assumptions that impact our lives seem like a good idea. For example, if your life’s ambition or wellbeing depends on X being available and in good working order, then regular objective assessments and maintenance of X may minimize unpleasant surprises. If one’s unhappy state of mind is the result of someone else’s feelings or opinions, realize that you cannot know their inner world and what they really feel or think. Even if they’re acting out against you, it may be more about them than anything personally related to you.

To make matters worse, confirmation bias says that we tend to only notice data that confirms our beliefs and ignore data that contradict them. In other words, evidence of the forgiving interpretation may be right under our nose but we may fail to see it.

Which beliefs in your life are more assumption than fact? Which have created or the potential to create a real problem in your life? Recognize that the belief is really a theory and explore different hypotheses. Chances are, you’ll never know the complete truth so you might as well take the forgiving and peaceful view. Use the confirmation bias to your favor and notice the data that confirms the kind interpretation, then let someone else work to prove you wrong.

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