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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Assumption advice: Think before you speak, and err on the side of civility

What can I say about assumptions that aren’t already obvious to most thoughtful people?  Oh, wait. I am assuming that most people are thoughtful. There I go, making an assumption. It’s easy to see how a person could get into the habit of making gross assumptions. We all do it! Some of us more egregiously, and rudely, than others. 

Top 10 MAJOR assumption faux pas:

  1. Don’t assume a married woman has taken her husband’s last name. (Ahem!)
  2. Don’t assume someone is (Fill in the blank religion). Right, Wolf Blitzer?
  3. Don’t assume someone is (Fill in the blank ethnicity) because of how they look. (Ahem, again!)
  4. Don’t assume someone’s (Fill in the blank political party) because of some of the issues they support.
  5. Don’t assume everyone you meet has children, or even wants them.
  6. Don’t assume all families are the same as yours.
  7. Don’t assume a person is financially successful/unsuccessful because of the car they drive or the house they live in.
  8. Don’t assume every married couple is happily married.
  9. Don’t assume people are as happy as they seem.
  10. Don’t assume someone is as healthy as they appear.

This list is the tip of the iceberg of assumptions. Listing every example is beyond the point I am trying to make.

When you get down to it, assumptions often come from ignorance, lack of experience, laziness, and arrogance. Again, we all are guilty of these things, but assumptions can become knee-jerk reactions and responses which severely limit proper analysis of situations to the extent that the person doing the assuming becomes narrow-minded and intolerant.

 It doesn’t matter what race, religion, or political persuasion you lean towards. Assumptions are universal and the people making them come from all walks of life and every corner of the Earth.

Many people like assumptions because they don’t challenge them to consider other points of view or opinions. That’s where arrogance comes into play, and the defenses come up. 

For instance, in the first major assumption I listed about people assuming that a wife has the same last name as her husband, the person making the assumption will defend their error by saying, “Well, of course I assumed her last name was Smith because her husband’s name is John Smith and they seem like a traditional family.”

Aha! They SEEM like a “traditional” family. So, because they seem like something, the assumption is that’s what they must be! Eureka. Not so fast. There are many reasons why a woman might choose to keep her own last name after marriage. Frankly, it’s no one’s business, and she should have to defend it. 

A recent, glaring, example of a serious assumption blunder was when Wolf Blitzer- an educated and seasoned reporter- made a seriously erroneous assumption when speaking to a woman in Oklahoma after the devastating tornado hit her town.

‘He asked if she thanked the Lord for guiding a split-second decision that saved her life during the disaster. Rebecca paused. Smiled. Then admitted: "I'm actually an atheist." ‘

Ouch! That had to hurt. Many detractors were horrified that Wolf would be criticized because he was well-meaning, but in reality he was being thoughtless and inconsiderate. He could have broached the topic in a completely neutral way which would not have assumed that the woman was a spiritual believer. He obviously wasn’t trying to be malicious, and he ended up looking foolish. I will bet good money he never makes THAT mistake again. 

Sometimes it is important to take a step back from the situation and use some extra time to THINK before speaking. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and err on the side of courtesy.

Taking a moment to ponder and assess a situation is so much wiser, kinder, and polite than blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. Thinking before acting on preconceived notions or perceptions is not only civilized, it helps you from looking like an idiot. Trust me, I have made enough assumptions in my life to write a book. I am far from perfect in this department. 
If you come away from this blog post with anything, let it be this- We ALL make assumptions. Try to minimize them. You may have to get off your high horse and open your mind a bit, but in the end, it may help you save some relationships and your credibility. 

1 comment:

  1. Really appreciate your thoughtful piece on "assumptions". I used to think it was ignorance but I now believe it's sheer laziness that's responsible for many assumptions people I know often make. The irony is that if they'd just take an extra minute to ask the question first (rather than assume the answer) it would save so much time and energy having to clarify, accept apologies, yada yada yada. Going to post this to my facebook. Thank you Diana!