Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Questioning Assumptions

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

12 thoughts on “Questioning Assumptions”

  1. You learn a lot about assumptions walking a dog. One person assumed they were alone in the woods, had their dog off leash, and as a result he attacked mine. Another thought I looked at him funny for letting his dog run through the swamp unleashed- made the comment, "It's just letting a dog be a dog"- however, what I knew and he didn't care about was the road on the other side, on which the dog could have gotten clobbered without him even seeing. And now, people prolly think Scrappy's unfriendly, but he's getting older and gets uncomfortable when dogs wanting to play approach him anything but straight on.

    And frankly, I've learned a lot about not being afraid of strange dogs in that same period.

  2. Such a valuable post, and I have to agree with your ideas about assumptions. I was just now cleaning up my emailbox and had a post from you that I was getting ready to comment on, when this popped up. I hope that you realize that I read all your posts, from the short poems to the long musings, and I always mean to comment but don't always get around to it. I know my assumptions are numerous, but I also forgive myself for them. It's a good idea to dust them off every once in awhile like you did here. Thanks for the great post, Galen! 🙂

  3. That's OK, DJan. I will try not to make assumptions when you don't comment on a post–ha! I agree with you that there is no benefit in adding judgment of ourselves on top of our assumptions. We can look at our assumptions honestly and release the ones that don't serve us without judging ourselves for what our minds naturally do.

  4. Wow, Galen, this post really made me sit up and think. We do make assumptions all the time, don't we? Guess I need to watch how and why I do so and be willing to analyze myself and my motives.
    Blessings, my friend!

  5. I catch myself making assumptions and judgments but leave them kind of hanging there until I can see if I've got it wrong. I try to keep some space around the assumptions and not blame myself as they are, as you say, almost impossible not to make. I also keep an eye on projections that people make, which ties into the dog walking scenarios, and expectations are working here too. What a complicated lot we humans are! But it can be entertaining in a weird kind of way:)

  6. I love that image of space around our assumptions and judgments. That is a great way to not struggle with them and at the same time see them clearly before acting on them. I laughed at your observation about how complicated and entertaining we humans are. So true!

  7. Yes, our minds are busy making assumptions all the time. And while they are sometimes necessary and efficient, they can lead us astray if we are not mindful of them. We could all use a little "space" around them, as Lynne described above, to see them clearly. Thanks, Martha.

  8. Its interesting when we take a hard look at our daily behavior, what we realize. Self realizing is not very pleasant at times, is it?. I have noticed that there is a part of my thinking mind that seems to not have my best 'whole' self in mind. It is always trying to make me think negative thoughts and these assumptions and judgements seem to come from this same thinking part of me.I won't call it my inner enemy, I am sure it has some valid role to play in our growth, but it seems to be antagonistic toward wholeness and oneness in general.Is this the ego in all of us that will not die off totally. Even though we may learn to not let it dominate, it still lingers in our psychic background. Is this our dark side that stays in the shadow land but subtly throws us darts of negative energy daily hoping to once again gain a foothold as the dominating force of our life. Fortunately, the journey of self realization exposes this antagonist mindset as false and it has less and less power over our innermost self daily.

    Its an interesting post with your thought on this, Galen.

  9. Thanks, Brian. True, not always very pleasant to see what my mind is up to when I'm not paying attention! But once seen, these assumptions and judgments can pass on through and I can choose not to embrace them or act on them.

  10. This inner critic is most powerful when our awareness is not paying attention to its subtleness. For example, I have found that when I are sick this voice will lead me to believe I am going to die, or at the very least I will suffer the rest of my days. It seems to thrive on the energy of fear. It can't stand loving awareness-our true nature.

Comments are closed.