Just Do You

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Impact of Assumptions

Posted by georgiannasaysjustdoyou on July 16, 2010


What does it mean to not assume and give someone the benefit of the doubt?  It means to give someone the gift of believing that it is possible that despite all superficial evidence, there is room for doubt in a situation.

Are you someone who leaps to what appears to be the obvious conclusion?  I am not saying that doing so is a bad thing.  The question really is, what is your next move?  Do you pause to give someone the benefit of the doubt?  Do you act on your assumption based on the years of experience you have witnessing or experiencing the same thing repeatedly?  What are the stakes if you are wrong this time?

It might not be a big deal.  For example, you come home and your house is a mess and you assume that despite the agreement before you left, that whoever it was who was supposed to clean it just blew it off or thought they had more time…  So what?  You get mad, you get frustrated, you feel like the burden always falls on you…  Then you talk to “whoever” to either confront, express frustration or question.  Say it turns out that they didn’t clean because they started and pulled out their back and when you find them they were in bed.  Or they didn’t do it because they had to help someone with an emergency…  or not, they just fell asleep.  What are the stakes really?

That is a different story from a more serious situation.  It is dangerous to assume and not give the benefit of the doubt that a person may not have acted a certain way for the reasons you think or WILL not act in a certain way based on your history and experience.

Here is an important and real example.  I used to work on a domestic violence hotline.  I answered thousands of calls over the course of 5 years.  After a while, there were patterns in conversations, similarities between the experiences of callers.  I was trained not to lump those experiences together when discussing a safety plan with the callers.  One day I got a call from someone who described a horrific situation.  The caller was hesitant to leave the person who was abusive despite the very real risk that they could be killed if they stayed.  The reason for the hesitation?  The abuser threatened suicide.  In my head I thought, there is no way the abuser will follow through and that is such a typical tactic to keep victims from leaving.  I tucked my thought to the side and followed my training.  The choice was ultimately the victims’ to make.  In this case the choice was to leave in order to live.  Incredibly, the abuser committed suicide the next day!  I was in shock.  And I kept thinking how horrible this was for the victim and all around.  In the years I had been doing the work, I had never heard of such a thing.  And on many levels I was relieved to have not acted on my assumption that it would never happen.  It kept the potential burden of a guilty conscience out of the picture.  It was not the victims fault nor was it mine.  But what a lesson!  You never know what a person will do.

So that may be an extreme example, but the assumptions we make have an impact on others because they carry with it behaviors that may be ill-informed.  Every situation is unique and every person is unique.  Our life experiences help to provide us with a lens, but it is not the full picture.  We should always operate with that personal awareness.

I don’t have the answers, but I always have thoughts.  Won’t you share yours?

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One Response to “Impact of Assumptions”

  1. Wow, what a great message and extremely powerful personal story you shared at the end. Thank you for the post!

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