When I was little, I used to spend hours wondering about whether blue to me is blue to everyone else. I knew we agreed to label that particular color "blue," but it intrigued me to think that perhaps what I perceive as blue, and what you agree with me is blue, you might actually see as what I would call green...Big thoughts for a little person.
The thing is, none of us sees life the same. We all have different experiences and different sensitivies and different passions. We have all gone through different types of pain and different reactions to similar pains. We have different family systems, different belief systems, different friends, different forms of communication, different spiritualities, different education. Of course, underlying it all, we are all the same, too, but I think often we forget that our differences are what shape our individuality, and so we assume that everyone else thinks the way we do.
In Africa, where I grew up, for example, there was one tribe where, if you cleaned your plate, it meant you wanted more food. And because it was a form of unspoken communication, your plate was then politely re-filled, again and again, until you left some food on it. You can imagine what that would be like (and was) for a European who was raised understanding that etiquette demanded you clean your plate or you were insulting the host/ess.
We all have these forms of unspoken communication, agreements we have made within our own "tribe," and it is upon these agreements that we base our assumptions, unless we are aware of a different agreement. In the above example, the African would assume the European had a voracious appetite (to put it mildly), and the European would probably assume the same of the African, when in actuality it wouldn't necessarily be true of either. But once the European understood the African's "agreement," and the African the European's, they would probably both have a good laugh and adjust accordingly to one or the other's protocol.
We all go through life making assumptions. Many of them are harmless, and some of them are positive, such as the assumption that there is goodness in everyone. And many are harmful. The thing about assumptions is just to be aware we're making them. Once we're aware, we can start to decide which ones we want to let go of and which we want to keep, which are productive and which are harmful.
One way to look at the assumptions you make is to question yourself when you have a negative thought about someone or something. If you are thinking something judgmental about someone or something, or if you feel you have been treated unfairly in any given situation, I can pretty much guarantee there is an assumption you have made somewhere along the way. It doesn't matter if you're talking about the cashier who didn't say hello to you or the person who cut you off in traffic or the person in the paper who committed the hate crime yesterday. If you disagree with me, please challenge me on it. And if nothing else, it makes for a worthwhile activity in self discovery.
Assumptions are based on ignorance, ignorance of our own belief systems and agreements. The more we are aware of what we see and why we see it that way, the more we are able to acknowledge the fact that other people might see differently. And the more we are aware of that, the more we can respect it. And with respect comes less judgment and more chance for better communication and better relationships, both personal and national.
So today, I am going to examine my assumptions. I am going to use negative thoughts as a cue, and I am going to stay open to the idea that there are endless ways to see one single thing. How lovely life is. How complicated and utterly simple. I invite you to join me.