The Danger of Making Assumptions

     If others tell us something, we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something, we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.
          ~Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements


Have you heard the story about the note left on the windshield of a car, displaying an appropriate placard, parked in a disabled space? It said, “Did you forget your wheelchair???”

The driver, in fact, suffered from multiple sclerosis, and, although she didn’t need a wheelchair full time, she had difficulty walking. The note-leaver didn’t notice any physical limitations for the driver and so made the assumption that the parking benefit was unjustified.

This story resonated with me because I too use a disabled placard (for arthritic hips and knees and bone spurs) and yet have no visible medical issue other than a slight limp. I’m concerned someone will assume that because I look healthy, I’ve snuck my way into something I don’t deserve.

Assigning Intent

We make assumptions all the time; we need to in order to survive. Often times, however, our wild theories have no basis in truth. It’s okay to make assumptions as long as you’re willing to tack “…and I might be wrong” to the end of whatever you assume. But we don’t do that, do we?

Another quick story:  I was having lunch with a friend and was deep in the middle of a complicated conversation. A friend of both of ours saw us from her table across the room and when she came over to say “hi,” she tried to hug me.  I was caught off guard, as I was concentrating on the conversation (not to mention I was seated … awkward!), and, with a scowl on her face, she then said to our mutual friend, “Well, I’m going to hug you since Antonia isn’t interested in a hug from me.” She somehow assumed I was not interested in her and I was intentionally ignoring her. Ultimately I don’t think acrimony was in operation here, but it was an uncomfortable situation.

What do we gain by not pausing to ask simple questions like, “Hey, are you upset with me?” or “Is everything okay?” before assigning an incorrect intention? Sometimes I make an assumption to give the appearance that I’m smart or that I know a person really well — ascribing a feeling or idea to them when, in fact, I don’t know a darn thing about what they feel or think.

Do You Know Enough to Make a Correct Assumption?

When we make erroneous assumptions we’re swimming in the deep end of the pool, particularly when it comes to assumptions about people’s actions. In the end,  we really know very little about each other. What may look obvious may be a projection of your own thoughts, beliefs, wishes, etc., and may not be correct at all!

Save yourself and others the possibility of heartache or anger. The next time you catch yourself making an assumption, ask yourself, “Is this true?” before you say it out loud or before you take any further action on what you think is happening.

At the very least, finish your thought with, “…and I might be wrong.”