I’ve read that making assumptions is an unhealthy habit, but I’ve also read that I shouldn’t believe everything I read. So in the spirit of ignoring conventional wisdom, here are three assumptions I make in just about any social or professional situation I find myself.
1. Everyone likes me.
Ok. I know that this one sounds silly, but it serves me well, so let me explain. I think I have a lot of great qualities: I’m funny, encouraging, smart, creative. I’m a natural leader who’s good at making people feel seen, welcomed, and valued. When I come into contact with anyone, whether they know me or not, I choose to assume that they recognize in me all the things that I like about myself, and that they like me, too. Of course I know that I have negative qualities — we all do. And I also know that not everyone actually likes me. But when I’m faced with someone’s hostility, I rarely take it personally, preferring instead to believe that their unfriendly words or behaviors are due to external circumstances that have nothing to do with me. In fact, I believe that much of the interpersonal difficulty we encounter is because…
2. Everyone is hurting.
John Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden, “Nearly everyone has his box of secret pain, shared with no one.” At any given moment, there’s something we’re all worried about, grieving over, or hurt by — often, it’s all of these at once, enough to fill that proverbial box of pain to overflowing. But we still have to function and show up at work and buy groceries and talk to our neighbors, all while seeming to be just fine. But our performances are never perfect, our masks have cracks — sometimes this manifests as impatience, rage, harshness, distractedness, or just general moodiness. With that in mind, while I may initially bristle when I encounter challenging people, I quickly transition my annoyance into empathy toward the pain they’re carrying around that led them to act the way they did. When I assume that people’s behavior is closely tied to their pain, I’m less likely to fall into the “people suck” mentality because I recognize that we’re all in the same boat.
3. There’s something to be learned.
I often find myself in situations that can only be described as mind-blowingly stupid. Whether it’s cleaning up someone else’s mistakes at work, jumping through bureaucratic hoops, or dealing with “customer service” representatives at (fill in the blank with pretty much any company or government organization on the planet. EVER.), it’s easy to get overwhelmed by how unnecessary my suffering is. It’s tempting to look at the situation and simply feel anger and frustration at the inanity of my circumstances and incompetence of the people I’m dealing with. But when I choose to assume that there’s something to be learned, I shift my perspective from self-pity to self-enrichment. Often, the thing I learn is to be compassionate and patient. Other times, it’s how to more efficiently get the result I’m looking for, and in that case, I mentally file that information away for next time I run across a similar problem. Fixating on the negative and complaining about how awful the experience was prevents me from growing or learning from my suffering.
In hindsight, it’s this third assumption that allowed me to emerge from The Year of Living Promiscuously with my optimism intact. I learned a lot because I assumed there was a lot to be learned. And I started this blog as a forum to figure out what that was for me. It’s why The Forty isn’t merely a catalogue of bad dates and unsuccessful relationships. It’s a record of my personal growth, a series of monuments to self-discovery. Some of it is painful to read, but there’s something to be learned there, too, in the emotions evoked by remembering our past.
What assumptions do you make?