Scripting. Assuming. Projecting. Call it what you like. We all do it. And I’ve come to believe it holds us back in so many ways, from what we think of ourselves to how nations choose to interact with other nations.
Ironically, this is something I first began to learn when I was working my way through divorce. Or at least, it was at that point I was trying to prevent divorce by understanding my role in things better. After a long period of wagging my finger in blame, I somehow got the notion that there were two people involved, and, being one of them, I began to wonder what my end of things had been. Once I became genuinely curious and open to learning the answers to that question, the way I had perceived things up to that point was blown completely apart. I’m now glad it happened. But what a shame to be confronted with such a dark scenario before trying to become more enlightened.
Have you ever been somewhere that you had seen previously on TV and been shocked at how small the location actually appeared? We’ve become very good at making little things appear larger than life. Television is very good at it. I believe it’s done deliberately. Keep it in mind, because a lot of the issues that are bringing you great stress are being strategically magnified for a reason. But I digress.
To “Assume” is to make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”
We all fall victim to making assumptions. Whether it is something that our partner is thinking, or our perception of the politics of a nation and its people, this kind of scripting can quickly lead us down an unfortunate and unnecessary path. Want a fun example? Take a look at this. It’ll only take you 98 seconds:
At the least, we can laugh at the idea that all Canadians live in igloos, ride polar bears to work, and play hockey in all their spare moments when they are not drinking maple syrup. It doesn’t bother me if people think that. It’s funny!
Slightly less amusing though, are a lot of default perceptions we seem to have about people, places and things. For example: the perpetuation of the stereotype of men and women (or women and women and men and men). We just accept that partners misunderstand each other, assume they have to “put up with” their spouse or cohabitant from time-to-time and then celebrate the idea that that’s just the way it is. Why? Why can’t they choose to work together to learn to communicate better and feel genuine respect, empathy and love for each other all the time? Television network sitcoms are especially adept at glorifying (magnifying) this unfortunate trait. Why in the world would we choose to perpetuate it? It doesn’t have to be that way.
You can always ask, or be more interested in getting it right than being right.
When in doubt, make it up?
This phenomenon escalates when you carry it over into the rest of the world. When you don’t hear back from someone, or you don’t get that bit of business, or an order gets cancelled or an email goes unreturned, you assume it’s because the people on the other end don’t feel you’re important or just don’t like you anymore. Or perhaps you’ve done something wrong. Or whatever you might think, you’re basically poisoning your own soul with assumption. The truth is that most often you have no idea what’s really going on in the other person’s life! So what do we do? We make it up so that we’ll think we know. Feeling certain about fiction seems to leave us more comfortable than the temporary uncertainty of eventual truth.
On the grandest levels, nations go to war, kill innocent people, and cripple their own economies by defending their own assumptions. This is nothing to laugh at, but in my opinion, the fundamental principle is still the same.
So how do we change it? Boil it down to its most basic form. It starts with everyone as an individual to be willing to get better at communicating and to become far less self-involved, interaction by interaction, conversation by conversation, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, generation after generation. Eventually, this tide will turn. But it’s up to all of us as individuals. And if it’s your opinion that there is no issue to begin with (I as once felt), then we’re not even at the starting line. We’ve got to recognize and be willing first, in my opinion. But those who are already there may as well get started, or continue on.
What can you do starting today?
1. If you don’t know, ask.
If you catch yourself making an assumption, name it. Own it. And even mention it to the person you’re thinking of. You will find that your stress quickly dissolve into the ether once it has been acknowledged. And the more that you do it, the easier it gets. It will take all of us becoming unconscious competents of this for massive change to be made across the world. But we can get there. It will take Generations, but it has to start somewhere. In fact, it has already long-since started. So let’s accelerate it.
2. Understand that what you are seeing is just your perception.
What somebody else sees and experiences is just their perception. It doesn’t make you right or them wrong or the other way around. You may perceive something as hurtful that someone else is genuinely meaning, from their heart, as helpful. But they may be using words and processes that you associate with something negative. It’s a difference in perception. You are assuming again. When you assume toward a negative, you may as well be drinking poison. It will eat you from the inside out.
3. Learn to love yourself, and start loving yourself. Start right now. Today.
When you have developed genuinely good feeling and contentment with yourself, you will be much less susceptible to falling into the trap of assumptions and misperception. The reason for this is because you will feel much less of a need to have to be right. You won’t be hinging your self-worth on anything other than your own personal fulfillment, and because of that, you will grasp much less at having to have answers for everything. Even if you do feel prone to making assumptions sometimes, as we all do, you will become nearly immune to worrying about what other people think. After all, what they think is really none of your business. What they think is about them, not about you, so why should you worry about it?
Does this resonate with you? Agree? Disagree? I’d appreciate hearing from you either way. Please feel welcome to leave a comment below.
If this is of interest to you but you’re unsure of how or where to get started, here are some recommended resources that have been very helpful to me:
“Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson
I read this book when I was going through process of marital separation (and eventually divorce), described above. It changed my life. Though the divorce went ahead, I am very proud that all parties remain genuine friends and committed co-parents of our kids. I doubt I’d be in such a good place without learning from the clear and helpful examples Dr. Johnson plays out in this book. Through it, I was able to see how I may have been contributing to the perpetuation of negativity without even being aware of it. Reading this booked and understanding its concepts has helped me at work and at home, and in just about every kind of communication. I believe this kind of stuff should be mandatory in secondary schools. In fact, I believe it’s time I read it again. I cannot recommend it more highly
“The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz
I’d heard of Ruiz’s gem of a book years before I read it. A fan of the NBA’s Miami Heat, I’d read that Pat Riley had given this book to every member of the team many years ago. My interest piqued, I wrote it down and even found it at the bookstore and leafed through it, but did not venture any further. More recently, a work colleague gave me a copy of this book. It had impacted her so greatly that she actually kept a second copy with the purpose of gifting it in mind the entire time. I ended up being the giftee. An easy read, I devoured it straight away and found myself illuminated. As with “Hold Me Tight,” I feel that Ruiz’s book should absolutely be required reading. Understanding two of the agreements alone (Don’t Make Assumptions and Don’t Take Anything Personally) will change for the better the way you view yourself and others.
“Learning to Love Yourself by Gay Hendricks”
One day I will meet Gay Hendricks and get to express my deep, sincere appreciation for all that his writings and teachings have meant to me. In all aspects of personal development and emotional maturity, I continue to find myself coming back to Hendricks’ work. When I first realized, “Oh – I don’t like myself as much as I thought I did” (a separate story for another day), I turned to Hendricks for guidance. He didn’t disappoint. Go to Gay Hendricks or whomever you relate with most, but please do start learning to love and appreciate yourself starting right now. It will change your life.