Even though your grandma told you not to assume because it “makes an ass out of you and me,” assuming is part of life. In fact, if you avoided making assumptions, your life would come to a standstill.
Upon waking up in the morning you’d have to test the stability of the floor by dropping a large dumbbell on it, because you wouldn’t want to assume that it was still structurally sound. Something could have happened to it in the night. Nor would you want to assume that the air is safe to breathe, or that you’re a real human and not actually a robot, or that everyone hasn’t changed their name since yesterday. Without assuming, life would get very crazy very quickly.
If you were able to see the actual extent of your assumptions, it might be more than your mind could handle. But it’s likely that it would also be a profound revelation, because you would see that all these assumptions – and very little objective fact – comprise an enormous story about how life is and who you are.
That story could be one of unlimited potential and unrestrained play! More often, though, it’s a story of “life’s not fair,” and “it’s hard to make real change,” and “people are mean.”
While it’s simply a matter of sanity to assume that our environment is basically unchanged from day to day, it’s quite different to make assumptions about other people’s thoughts, feelings, and motives or our own limitations. Yet, we do it all the time, and often we assume the worst.
When someone doesn’t communicate or act in the way we hope and expect, we might make an automatic assumption that it means they don’t like us or that they have ill intentions.
We rarely find out if our assumptions about other people are accurate, so we could just as easily assume generously. We can assume that people like us, that they’re kind, that they’re doing their best, and that they’re intrinsically noble.
What happens when we assume generously?
The two most significant shifts are:
(1) our story changes for the better
(2) we relate to the other party in a more constructive way
First, our story changes for the better. We may have challenges and others may be confused or even hurtful, but if our assumption is an overarching goodness, we have a lot more freedom in the matter (and so do they).
We’re able to see a bigger picture.
We don’t need to react.
We’re not the victim and our brothers and sisters aren’t villains.
Second, we relate to the other party in a more constructive way. When we assume someone has negative intentions, it’s easy to subtly (or not-so-subtly) contribute to an experience that seems to confirm this.
Through our energy, body language, and words, we convey our resistance to our assumption about them, and they respond to it. Sometimes it goes back and forth for days or weeks or years, until one person – maybe you – decides to cut through the bullshit and assume generously about them.
As soon as you make this choice, you begin listening differently (or listening at all!). You relate to others in a way that’s authentic and seeks harmony, and even calls forth their virtue.
This can snowball in the same way it does with negative assumptions, because seeing the other in a positive light requires tapping into your own virtue. You’re going beyond the drama and conflict and seeing with a higher form of vision.
Thus, your virtue calls forth their virtue, and their virtue inspires your virtue to come even more to the forefront. Soon you’re seeing the light in everyone and simultaneously basking in that light.
But, what if you’re wrong in your generous assumptions?
For the most part, it’s harmless.
You thought someone liked you but they don’t. You thought someone was helping but they weren’t. These incidents are going to be few and far between and you would have discovered the truth regardless of your perspective. In the meantime, though, you were re-scripting your own story of life, and this discovery needn’t invalidate it.
Of course, there’s a difference between having faith in the goodness of humanity and being naive or willfully ignorant. Regardless of someone’s intentions, if you’re actually being harmed in a relationship, don’t try to convince yourself that you should stick around and see their virtue.
Use your intuition and love yourself – and remove yourself from harm if necessary. But don’t let such experiences make you lose sight of the power to interpret events in a positive light, in a way that helps you learn and grow, or in a way that gives you greater clarity as to how you’d like to create your life differently from here on out.
So, here’s an experiment for you to try: for the rest of today, assume generously in every situation. This will require watching the assumptions you’re making – and that in itself can be an eye-opening and life-changing experience.
First, you’ll see what you’re usually assuming degrades your experience of life. Then you’ll have a chance to change your perspective. You don’t need to go to the opposite end of the spectrum (e.g., if someone spits on you, it might be a stretch to assume this is a subtle form of baptism in their culture).
Instead, try giving them the benefit of the doubt. Can you listen? Can you see beyond the surface, beyond your own snap judgement? What happens next? Share your experiences with me in the comments section below.
Love love love,