October 26, 2012

Hello all, I thought I would write a musing post today. I want to talk about Assumptions that rule our lives.

You Know What They Say About Assumptions…

Everyone does it. We all make assumptions, all the time, about everything. We make assumptions about people when we meet them, and when they are speaking to us. We make assumptions about a situation, though the facts don’t support our assumptions. We make assumptions about what people are assuming about us (I know, mind=blown).

What are assumptions, why are assumptions needed, and what happens when we are wrong?

The Anatomy of An Assumption

Assumptions have a basic formula. Every Assumption has three components.

The first component is the Seed of Truth that sparks it all. This could be a look from another person, a single word from a sentence, or the way someone says something. There is always something that starts the assumption, that prompts us into thinking we know the whole situation.

After that is the second component: Extrapolation.

“My wife said <this>, so it must mean <that>.”

“Based on what he has told me, he must believe <this>, <that>, and <the other thing>.”

Extrapolation is where things get tricky. This is where we impose our thoughts and views on the situation to try to make sense of it. Now let me be clear, you can sometimes be right. But that is only if your thoughts and views correctly guess where the other person was going with that.

What is more likely to happen is we interpret the situation using our own tainted viewpoint; we process information through a vice-ridden filter, if you will. If we have the tendency toward egotism, we may think they were complimenting us, or even challenging us. If we have a tendency toward jealousy, then we might take an innocent remark about a person outside of our relationship as a threat to that relationship.

In a sense, extrapolation is where trouble starts. Through the arrogance that comes with being human, we start thinking that we know what is going on, even though we don’t have all the facts. This leads us to the third part of the assumption, the Conclusion. 

We take things too far sometimes, and the conclusion is where we see that enacted. Because we don’t have all of the information, we are often wrong; the conclusion is false, or at best incomplete.

The entire process is reworked again and again with new information until the dead horse has officially been beaten enough.

So why do we make assumptions?

Why is the Left Fielder’s Name

In general, I think most of us try to wait until we get all of the information before we make a decision regarding a situation or a person. It is usually in the heat of the moment or when we strongly believe something when we make rash assumptions with little to no information yet.

You rarely see people walk in on the awkward, looks-like-cheating-but-it-isn’t moments of modern day sitcoms and romantic comedies and say to their suspicious-looking partners, “ok, just sit down and tell me all of the details before I rush out and do something stupid.” No, you generally see the opposite. People freak out at the first sign of trouble and run away, or cheat to get revenge, or do something equally ridiculous. Patience comes into play here. We can easily see the following:

The amount of patience a person has is inversely proportional to the amount, the frequency, and the intensity of the assumptions that person makes.

Assumptions are simply the ways we process things we don’t understand. Patient people will tend to wait to understand more, while impatient people will take what little they have to go on and run with it. This causes the assumption to go awry. What exactly are the ramifications of a wrong assumption then?

Long Term Side Effects of Incorrect Assumptions (LTSEIA)

Incorrect assumptions either end in bitterness toward the object of that assumption or a constant rehash of new information until you eventually get a complete picture of the object. Living with the LTSEIA can be detrimental to relationships, new and old, and it can damage the way you look at the world.

For example, I am a Christian. Right there you might have made several assumptions, depending on the lens you are looking through.

A Liberal Atheist might assume I:

  • Vote Republican
  • Hate women
  • Hate gay people
  • Attend church every Sunday
  • Have a lot of Christian friends
  • Like boring music about God that only has three chords and repeats itself a lot
  • Am ignorant
  • Am close-minded and resistant to reason
  • Am judging people all of the time

A Church-Goer Texan might assume I:

  • Vote Republican
  • Hate abortion
  • Attend church every Sunday
  • Have a lot of Christian friends
  • Like Chris Tomlin and David Crowder (i.e. boring music about God that only has three chords and repeats itself a lot)
  • Have a lot of faith
  • Don’t sin anymore

Notice that several of the assumptions are similar (like voting Republican, attending church every Sunday, liking boring music).

Notice also that several assumptions are different sides of the same issue, i.e. the issue can be seen in multiple lights.

A big example of this is the abortion assumption. I dislike abortion, but I want to protect women. I firmly believe that stopping all abortion is protecting women, because half of all babies aborted are future women. Now, someone might hear that I am pro-life and they automatically assume I am not in favor of rights of the mother. Another person hears I am pro-life and immediately thinks of the rights of the baby inside. It all depends on the perspective on whether life begins at conception. Since I am someone who believes it does, you can see that it would deeply affect my conscience to think that there might be anything I could do to save the innocent baby inside the mother. It is a different outlook, wholly dependent on my perspective. We are no longer arguing about the same thing.

But as I look at the entire set of assumptions here, I see that both sets have incorrect assumptions in them.

  • I do in fact vote Republican. But sometimes I vote Libertarian, so there goes that.
  • I don’t hate gay people, I have gay friends. I do think that homosexuality is wrong according to the Bible. It is as wrong as lusting after women (which I occasionally do) and lying (which I occasionally do). Practicing homosexuality is not a sin against me though, unlike stealing from me would be, so that is between God and the homosexual. I am not here to judge, but to love.
  • I have been looking for a “good” church for a while, so I have not been a consistent church-goer.
  • I dislike simple music, period, which unfortunately rules out a lot of church music. That is why I like people like Michael Gungor and Red, which are Christian but not mind-numbingly dull. Rather, they are rich and textured like the Thelonius Monk I am listening to as I write this.
  • I am not ignorant, I have faith in something unable to be proven or disproven. It is different.
  • I do not have a lot of faith. I am learning, but sometimes I am pulled away by doubts. There are some very real moments that keep me, and there is a consistent current of security, but I doubt at times.
  • I sin all of the time. I am not perfect, therefore I cannot judge.
  • I am not closed-minded, nor am I resistant to Reason. I simply cannot see Reason disproving or proving a Being that supersedes Reason. Reason is a lemma of the Being, therefore it cannot be used to prove the Being, nor can it be used to disprove it. We have set ourselves up with an impossible problem.

The worst possible LTSEIA are seen in relationships that are broken by assumptions. If we don’t take the opportunities to get to know people, we are always stuck with the assumptions that we first made about them, and often they are not nice assumptions. Also, in romantic relationships, assuming that we know what the other person is thinking is a dangerous game to play. Rarely are things as they seem under the surface, and learning how to get more information before reaching conclusions will help in the quality and the longevity of relationships, both romantic and otherwise.

What about you? Are there assumptions that you vow to stop making? What are your thoughts on my explanation here?

Thanks for reading!


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