Sneakiest assumption ever

The sneakiest assumption ever is this: other people are like us.

It’s sneaky because most of us are pretty aware that it’s not true in a wide variety of ways. We know other people don’t always look like we do, think like we do, or believe what we do. We understand that maybe when we say something is red, what we’re understanding “red” to mean might not be what you’re understanding it to mean, even! But still, we tend to assume it in subtle ways. I assume that if someone raises her voice, she is about as angry as I would be if I were raising my voice. I assume that other people will feel sad, delighted, angry, or hopeful about roughly the same sorts of things that I feel those ways about. With people I am close to, especially, I tend to assume that I know what they mean when they make indirect statements, like “it would be nice if someone would do this task.”

But I don’t have any way to know if these things are true, most of the time. So something happens: I make the assumption, act on it, and then, before anyone knows what happened, we’re on a boat riding down the Reaction Rapids towards some very sharp rocks!

One way out of the sneakiest assumption for me is to try to separate two parts of how I understand the world. On the one hand, there are things that aliens watching a video of an interaction could agree happened: She closed the door loudly. He said “Are you sure those shoes will be comfortable for the walk?” And on the other, there are all of the things that I assume were meant: She closed the door loudly because she was angry. He asked about the shoes because he doesn’t trust the other person’s judgement. Notice how my reasoning becomes suspicious once I start speculating about reasons?

Another way is to stay curious. In this, I am inspired by Byron Katie, who uses four questions to bring our stories to light. The one I find most useful is the second question: can I absolutely know that this is true? Even the act of wondering this makes a crack in our assumptions and invites in the possibility, however slim, that it could be another way. Into that crack, we can slip all kinds of things: delight, openness, hope. I recommend it.

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