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Glittering Shards

Glittering Shards: March 2005

Glittering Shards

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Hunt the assumption

A few years ago, a friend of mine used the phrase 'hunt the assumption' in a conversation we were having. It is one of those phrases that stuck in my head.

Assumptions are mischievous little gremlins that cause havoc in our minds and relationships. I've always known that assuming was not a good thing. But it is only recently that I have been active in exploring the place of assumptions in my life.

You know how it goes...someone sends you an email minus the 'fluffy' bits that emails are often topped and tailed with. Or someone has a certain expression on their face when you walk in the room or is a bit short on the phone. If the assumption gremlin is at work, these signals normally mean that the person is cross with you, disapproves of you, has an attitude problem, doesn't like you...bla bla bla... The gremlin then begins playing with your head and feelings to the point that a whole story evolves in your head about you and that person. In the end, your feelings about the person are altered and you begin responding to them as if they really are cross with you / don't like you etc... Put the boot on the other foot and you can be the recipient of someone else's assumption gremlin all because you were concentrating hard (I frown when I concentrate) and your expression was taken as disapproval, or you were distracted when talking on the phone and this was taken as lack of interest.

So recently, I have started playing 'hunt the assumption' in my head. It goes like this. Aforementioned potentially negative signal is received. Assumption gremlin rears its spiky head (there was definitely one with a spiky head in the film). You then start making a long list of all the things that could really have caused the person to have been 'curt' or whatever the negative signal was. Maybe they had a row with their partner this morning. Maybe they were in a hurry because they suddenly realised the dinner was burning. Maybe they don't do fluffy in emails. Maybe they have zero levels of energy left after meeting all the demands of their life. Maybe something you said reminded them of something painful. I list as many maybe's in my head and by the time I have done this, the risk of the assumption taking root and unwrapping its parcel of associated thoughts and feelings has subsided. The assumption has become just one possibility among many. It works. It prevents me from responding to someone as though the initial negative assumption were true and helps me keep an open and inquiring mind.

The other version of 'hunt the assumption' that I play is when I am on public transport. I look at the people around me and pick one. I consider what the stereotype of that person would normally say about the person's life, job, interests etc... Then I imagine someone totally different - who they might be, what music they might listen to, what job they may do that is outside of that stereotype. It reminds me how easy it is to have a fixed expectation of people depending on how they look and what group they appear to belong to...and how, in reality we don't know people until we know them, so assume nothing.

Having said all this, I'm not assuming that I will never assume again, but this two little mind tools are proving useful in keeping those gremlins at bay.

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