Don’t assume. Please ask.
I got a divorce last year. Since that process started I have been doing a lot of self-reflection and soul searching. One of the things that I have begun noticing that come up time and time again is how often other people make assumptions about me. How I feel. What I want. Things I am or am not doing. People do this all the time to others. It is not exclusive to just interactions with me.
First, what’s an assumption? An assumption is defined by:
“ a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.”
Assumptions that started catching my attention
A couple months into my the divorce process… “Oh, you’re still dealing with that? I assumed you were done with your divorce.” Of course, divorces CAN be simple and straight forward, but seem more likely to be long and messy, full of emotion and struggle and pain.
After my ex-husband went Facebook official with his new relationship… “Well, why don’t you get your own girlfriend now?” This makes all sorts of assumptions. It goes along well with: “Your next wedding will be better”, “You are still young… plus women are having kids until their forties and later!”, and “You will find the right one.”
Then there is the assumptions that come when someone learns I’m a feminist. These assumptions can be good or bad (like any assumption) depending on the person’s own viewpoint on feminism. Or the assumptions that come with learning any number of my current or past side hobbies. Everything comes connected to an assumption about what it means.
This behavior stretches into my professional life as well. When applying for a management position or special leadership training… “I didn’t think you were interested in management / leadership.” Or following an intense, high-stress, high-priority project… “You don’t know how to manage your stress.” This assumption presumes the only stress in my life is the visible stress at the office or that outside of the high-stress work project my life must be relatively stress-free. It also implies that under no circumstances should you allow yourself to surpass your maximum capacity for stress. This paired with advice on how it’s important to be okay with letting other things “slip”; with the example of putting off house work to focus on higher priority life or work tasks. The assumption with that advice is that it isn’t already known and being followed as best as possible.
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I see these assumptions happening all the time around me. “I totally understand how you feel.” Do you? Can anyone really know how anyone else really feels? Without being in their shoes, without having gone through all their experiences as they have, we really have no way of knowing exactly how anyone else feels and it is extremely presumptuous to assume otherwise. And without asking, or having the unsolicited information volunteered, how would anyone know what someone is doing in the parts of their life you cannot see?
These experiences over the last year have ultimately prompted me to try to catch myself now when I make assumptions of others. To ASK the person directly instead of assuming things.
- “How are you feeling?”
- “How are you doing?”
- “What kind of stress management techniques have you used or are you using?”
- “Do you want kids?”
- “Would you consider dating / marriage again?”
- “What do you think about X?”
- “Are you mad at me?”
Let’s not assume we know everyone around us enough to have answers to these questions right off the bat. Let’s not assume any previous answers you may have had for these questions don’t change over time. Let’s not assume we know what someone’s experience is like — divorce, losing a loved one, losing a job, going back to school, dealing with a medical condition, dealing with sexism/racism/ageism/classism/etc., being a minority, being a member of any other given social/economic class, etc. Let’s not assume we understand why someone makes any given decision or acts/reacts a certain way. Let’s not assume we know what someone else wants out of life — marriage, single, non-traditional relationship, career, stay-at-home-parent, school, kids, no kids, pets, no pets, etc.
Let’s instead ask each other what it’s like for them personally. Let’s instead try to understand each other — where the other person is coming from, how they are really doing, where they want to go, what’s standing in their way, how we can help each other.
Let’s not push our assumptions on others.
So please… ask me instead of assuming. Ask others as well. People generally will be happy to share their truth with you and appreciate that you cared enough to ask. I know I will.