When I’m at my cabin, I walk my dog off leash, as do many folks who have cabins nearby. When approaching other people, whether they have dogs or not, I call my dog to heel so that she won’t bother them. If the other people have a dog, I clip my dog’s leash on for added control. Sometimes they do the same. However, because my dog is very skittish around other dogs, if the other dog is off leash and begins to run towards us, even if the dog is clearly being friendly, I usually pick my little dog up.
When this happens, the other person often assures me that their dog is friendly. But my dog is not so predictable when she is scared, so I usually respond that I’m not worried about their dog’s friendliness; I’m worried about mine.
After repeating this scenario many times, it occurred to me that there are so many assumptions being made, not only about the dogs but about the people. I realized that the other owners are assuming that I pick my dog up because I am afraid of their dog, especially if their dog is big. They assume that I am concerned for my smaller dog’s safety, that I’m judging their dog to be a threat to mine.
Their assurances sometimes carry an undercurrent of defensive accusation, as though I have misjudged their dog and I’m being over reactive, when in fact I’m trying insure that my dog does not react badly or start an altercation. I make my own assumptions about them, their dogs, and what I assume they are thinking about me and my dog.
The point here is not about dog behavior, or proper dog owner etiquette, but about how a brief and simple encounter carries so many unspoken and often unrecognized assumptions and judgments.
We go through so much of our daily lives making these snap judgments, and then acting on them without ever questioning them. On a recent run to the grocery store, I decided to see if I could catch all the assumptions I was making in a thirty minute period.
Wow, that was sobering. I made assumptions based on how people drove, what they drove, how they parked, what they wore, their ethnicity, their gender, their age, what they had in their shopping carts, with whom they were shopping, how they behaved when we passed in the aisles, how they behaved in the checkout line, and on and on. Some of my assumptions disturbed or embarrassed me, even though they were fleeting and quickly dismissed. I’m sure that for every assumption I caught, countless others slipped past me unnoticed.
I don’t think we can avoid all assumptions, and I’m not suggesting that we should. This is what our brains are wired to do – identify, categorize, and evaluate. And that serves a purpose. But when we do it so unconsciously, our assumptions can lead to beliefs and actions that might be based on a faulty initial premise.
Like the book title says, don’t believe everything you think. If we are willing to take an honest look, to be aware of at least some of the judgments we so automatically make, if we are willing to soften our attachment to our own view of things, we might be wondrously surprised.
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. ~Isaac Asimov