A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Miguel Ruiz’s 4 Agreements: Don’t Take Anything Personally. Taking things personally causes us much pain and suffering. And the main reason why we take things personally is because we make an assumption that someone else’s action is about us (e.g. they didn’t thank me because they don’t respect me, they ignored me because they don’t like me, etc.)
We make assumptions all the time. The problem is that the process happens so quickly, that we often do not even realize that we are making an assumption – we believe the assumption we made is the truth.
Let’s say you are at a party and see someone you know, but they don’t say “hi” to you. You could make all sorts of assumptions about that. You could assume that they are mad at you. Or that they don’t care about you. Or that they are feeling shy and are waiting for you to say “hi” first. Or that they were daydreaming and simply didn’t see you.
Depending on your assumption, you are going to react differently. You might decide to be mad back at them. Or not to care as much about them. Or to take the first step and say “hi” to them. Or to give them a big hug.
Now your reaction is in turn going affect the way they respond to you. And in this way, your little assumption can change your experience and affect the way you enjoy the party. You could have a miserable time stewing over this or a great time catching up with your friends.
We often do this in our relationships. We assume that others see the world the way we do – that they think the way we think, feel the way we feel, and interpret things the same way. So we might assume that if our partner really loved us, they would of course say certain things and proactively do things we like. And then if they don’t say or do those things, we might conclude that they don’t really love us. But in reality, they might be expressing their love in completely different ways. Or they might be having a bad day.
So what can we do? The best way to keep ourselves from making assumptions is to ask questions. Rather than assuming that our friend is mad at us, we can ask what is going on. Rather than assuming that our partner doesn’t care, we can ask why they did or didn’t do something.
This takes some courage, because we are not used to asking, and sometimes we might get some answers that we do not like. But it’s the only way to really understand what is going on.
But what about situations where we cannot ask the other person, either because they are not around or because they are not giving us straight answers?
While Miguel Ruiz calls his agreement “Don’t Make Assumptions”, I think that it might also be effective to choose to make a “better” assumption – one that serves us. We could remind ourselves that nothing other people do or say is because of us. It is because of themselves. We could assume that they are behaving the way they do because they are preoccupied with something else, are being triggered by something from their past, or have different beliefs or values.
What assumptions have you been making? What assumptions would you like to change?