A neighbor of mine recently lost her job and moved from her apartment. She was a pleasant neighbor with an adorable dog. Now, it would be easy to assume this neighbor moved because of financial reasons, but the truth is, I don’t know. She may have had extensive savings and simply decided to move closer to family, or she may have had a medical condition that required additional care. Again, I did not know. It could be that I’d guess a million times and still not get it right. In fact, this neighbor could have told me her situation and even then I would not really know the underlying details in full.

It’s quite easy to make an assumption, right? She lost her job and thus she couldn’t afford her rent. It’s logical; it’s a strong possibility, but it’s not a fact. Yet, so often we make judgments like this and build our reactions around them. We do this a majority of the time, if you think about it, as we fill in the gaps with our own projections and assumptions. Of course, those assumptions are based on our beliefs. If you’ve known a life of living paycheck to paycheck or with minimal savings then, of course, you’re more likely to assume this neighbor had to move for financial reasons.

Think about a situation that you encountered recently, or that you heard about. Take a moment and reflect on the objective facts you know about that situation. Now, consider those facts even closer; really be sure they are facts. In my neighbor’s case, I heard from another neighbor she lost her job, and I know she moved out. With the situation you’re reflecting on, what gaps are you filling in? What assumptions are you making? What judgments (for better or for worse) have you formed based on those assumptions? See how easy it is to get carried out to sea on a mere drop of water? We do this all the time. We create the world around us this very way.

What now, you might be wondering? Personally, I always find awareness to be half the battle.  When we’re aware of what we are doing we then have the choice to do something else. Noticing how your assumptions likely have a pattern to them is a pointer to your world views. Much like the assumption of the neighbor moving due to money issues possibly a reflection of the hardships in your own life or those you care about. Perhaps you’d viewed the neighbor as too lazy to get another job? Or lacking resources? Or close with her family? These are all based on us and our experiences. We make others like us so we can better categorize them for understanding.

Here’s the thing I’ve come to truly see- you don’t really know. For my internship, as I prepare to begin working individually with counseling clients, I am observing the professional sessions. As clients disclose about their lives, I always find myself amazed to recognize that I have made assumptions. I assumed how the client might present themselves; what their concerns might be.. but I’ve been wrong every time. And, clearly, that’s because those people are not me! I can’t assume anything about their lives! Anything I assume is merely a reflection of my own experiences.

This can be a powerful and painful awareness to begin to investigate within your own life. I’ve certainly felt the sting of self-growth as these realizations present themselves to me. The more we can call ourselves on these types of assumptions the more non-judgmental space we are able to offer to others. And, that really is the goal if we are aiming to truly hear another person and connect with them – be it cashier, client, or loved one. So, if you find yourself interpreting a situation- stop and ask yourself how you know that to be true. If your answer involves a past experience, then you’re projecting onto the now. If that answer includes ‘should’ or ‘likely’ then we are making assumptions without knowing the facts. If we feel ourselves stirring with emotion that we can not name, it’s likely a past experience influencing our current one.

This exercise in awareness is eye-opening and, admittedly, painful at times. We do judge; we do assume, but we don’t have to. We have a choice, as long as we are aware that we are doing it.

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