Growing up I remember hearing my parents and other adults say “When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.” For the last 18 months, I have been working on no longer making assumptions in my life. I am not even sure that in the beginning I realized how often I made assumptions. I knew that I like so many people made assumptions. However, it was not until I consciously began to work on not making them that I realized how often I did. I began to realize how many times I made assumptions about the little things in people’s lives.
It really hit me one day when I was having coffee with a few of my students and they began talking about a couple at a table near us and creating this whole life about them just by looking at them. I decided to make this a teachable moment for all of us. I began asking them question like, "what do you think they had in their coffee,” as that is what I ASSumed they were drinking. What newspaper do you think they read? What kind of music do they like? What sports do they play or watch? What is their favorite movie? What political party do they support? What is their favorite color? They had no trouble answering these questions with explanations as to why they thought what they did. I have done a similar exercise with my online students. I give them a picture of me from when I had dreads and then ask them to tell me what they think they know about me based on the picture only. The answers are quite interesting and often times humorous. In the 7 years I have been doing this exercise with my students, none of them ever thought to have a discussion with me about any of these things. The students, who were at the table with me that day, never realized how easy it was to make assumptions.
Each time I do this exercise with others, it is a humbling moment for us all. It reminds me how easy it is to make assumptions about others and about situations without ever discussing anything. We assume we think we know what someone likes, why something happened, and what will happen next, to name just a few things. I always find it interesting to ask my students and others why they that about me. What beliefs are those assumptions based on?
At the age of 54, soon to be 55, I have come to the realization I have made many assumptions in my life and never thought about whether they were accurate. My making assumptions has made an ASS out of myself and or the others involved. There was a point in time in my life when I would have tried to justify or defend my assumptions. It was easier to try to get off the hook and avoid responsibility for what I had assumed.
What I have come to realize is that the more time I spend seeking clarification about others and situations, the deeper my relationship with my self and others becomes. I no longer have to fill in the blanks without having a discussion. When I remove the ASS before U and ME, I open the possibility for deeper discussions between us and a clarification I may not have had about a situation or person before. I no longer have to guess what you put in your coffee because you will have told me.
I have also come to realize that it is assumptions that separate us from one another as people on a broader and more global sense. I remember having a conversation with my mother one-day years ago. She assumed that all my female partner and I ever did was have sex. “Your father and I, we have a real relationship.” I had to giggle for a moment when she said that. it felt as if she was telling me I didn’t know what their relationship was like having lived with them for 20 something years. Well maybe I didn’t. There I go making an assumption. It was after we had a conversation about how similar our lives really were that the wall between us came down. We were no longer making assumptions about what our relationships were like.
One of the things I have come to realize is that no longer making assumptions is a process that requires practice. It is not one of those things you can just stop doing cold turkey. It is a process of mastering the awareness of when we are doing it and then seeking clarification about it before we automatically fill in the blanks.
Sometimes removing the assumptions can be scary because it challenges us to be aware of our own biases and prejudices. Sometimes having meaningful conversations with others can be challenging because we may have to not only be aware of when we are making assumptions; we may have to be aware of when others are making assumptions about us, or at least we assume they are.
What would our lives be like if we stopped making assumptions? How different would our lives be? Would we grow closer as friends, families, communities, states, countries, nations, and the world? How different would our lives be if we removed the ASS before U and ME?