“You should never assume. You know what happens when you assume. You make an ass out of you and me because that’s how it’s spelled.”
― Ellen DeGeneres
Now that I have become more aware of the impact that the first and second agreements have in regards to retaining one’s sweetness of mind, I have been giving the third agreement quite a bit of thought this week: Don’t Make Assumptions. We often make assumptions when interacting with others as to what they are thinking, feeling, wanting, etc. by what they either say or do and how they act, etc. This can lead to unnecessary distress and suffering since we also tend to forget the second agreement while making these assumptions: Don’t Take Anything Personally. Now, I admit, I probably have a more active imagination than some, and I tend to create quite a story around why someone did or said something that felt hurtful. Conversely, I never seem to create a story when someone says or does something that is helpful or kind. Funny, huh? (I will come back to that.)
If you find your mind also wanders towards the telling-reeeaaaaalllly-creative-stories side of life, then you too may have noticed when you can find yourself swirling a tornado of thoughts flooding in when a friend cancels AGAIN, or you didn’t get a call back on a job, or that girl you like didn’t call you back. How much suffering do we inflict on ourselves when we take things personally, and then make assumptions as to another person’s motives? Personally, I waste quite a bit of energy and time thinking about people’s intentions when they piss me off. Especially if I remember that when people act in a hurtful way, it generally has nothing to do with me and everything to do with their old baggage (aka “karma”). How we treat others is usually a reflection of the lack of awareness we may have or how we treat ourselves. That is, of course, unless a person is living with a major personality disorder.
Thinking back to the times in my life when I have suffered greatly, I am reminded of swarms of conversations buzzing in my brain with people who were not actually present. (I am sure you are wondering if I am the one with a major personality disorder….) It wasn’t that I was talking to myself so much as I was imagining an outcome to various conversation scenarios with someone who I was in conflict with at the time. Many of these conversations involved an assumption. I assumed that I knew what the other person would say, how they would feel and what they would do based on my perceptions. If I didn’t agree with the outcome, I would make-up a different option based on a different set of criteria. Then I would ruminate for hours about which one was correct, or which one I thought was correct. Depending on how important the person was to me, dictated how long these rumination sessions would last and how upset I would become by the time I actually spoke directly to that person.
For example, let’s say a man is late coming home from work and misses dinner plans with his wife. The wife assumes that he is late because he did not want to eat dinner with her and this spirals downward from there into he doesn’t like her cooking, or maybe she starts to worry that he is late for dinner because he is trying to avoid her – then she thinks of all of the reasons as to why he might be avoiding her. The more she thinks of these things, the more hurt she becomes and the angrier she gets. By the time the poor man gets home, she has waged war on him for all of the feelings and fears that she can’t take responsibility for, or express properly to him. As he walks in the door, she hits him with an inquisition as to why he doesn’t love her anymore – and he, naturally, is dumbfounded, but yells back at her in his senseless self-defense. The simple explanation – he was late because he was stuck in traffic, cursing because he couldn’t get home on time to see his lovely wife, but did the stupid guy thing and forgot to call her to tell her that. Quite a bit of time and energy and hurt feelings for something that could have been easily resolved with better awareness and communication by both parties involved. Granted, this doesn’t address any deeper concerns or issues between the couple, but you get the idea of what assumptions do to cause us suffering.
The problem is that sometimes assumptions aren’t really assumptions at all – but our gut intuition sending us a message when something is just not quite right. I have mentioned more than once how I had that “knowing” sensation when my ex was cheating on me. I delayed taking action for the very reason of this agreement – don’t make assumptions! I told myself that I was assuming way too much about his odd behavior, his lack of participation in our relationship, or his inability to make any sort of future plans with me. (I am not talking about big life plans, here people, I am talking about what were our plans for the weekend, for GAWD’s sake!) I chalked all of these signals up to him working too much and being exhausted or depressed. And maybe his abhorring behavior was an indicator that he was depressed, or disturbed – who knows, but I did my best to stifle this “knowing” and thus ended up also causing myself suffering.
The key in all of this is that I needed to notice his inability to be Impeccable With His Word. His actions were inconsistent with his words and that was the big reason that my gut was telling me the truth and I was not making an assumption. Thus, it is important to look deeper into a situation when that little nagging voice of fear starts to weave tales in your head and ask yourself if the concern is warranted. Paying attention to someone else’s actions will give you information that your old fears/baggage will sometimes try to misrepresent as truth. This isn’t always easy to distinguish – it may take a conversation (rather than a yelling match) with the other person to address your concerns. This also means taking responsibility for your own feelings and not blaming them for those feelings and fears.
Facing conflict in an honest and vulnerable way is one of the most challenging hurdles I have to overcome. Being able to tell someone how I feel, or when I am uncomfortable, is not how I spent the better part of my life. Typically, when faced with a situation that is uncomfortable, I either run away from the person or lash out unnecessarily – it was one extreme or the other. I have noticed my karmic cycle has a deep groove that drives me to take things personally when someone is hurtful, seek their approval – even if that means going against my own word, changing my value system to accommodate them and assume that I know this is for the best. Living in a manner than goes against my core values leaves me exhausted and drained. Instead, I have learned that I need to speak up for myself, state my feelings as a kindly as possible and acknowledge that I am accountable for those feelings. What I have learned that I can’t do, is assume what another person thinks or feels – because that is just too much responsibility to take on for something I cannot control.
I can’t pretend to know what the outcome is – I just have to decide when it happens if it is something I can live with and feel good about or if it something that will cause more harm in the long run to my sweetness of mind. Easy to say, hard to do – should be an interesting few weeks of new awareness….