In class today, we were talking all about our “Automatic Assumptions” – Key 4 in my book Better Relationships, Happier Lives: 12 Keys to Getting There.
“What’s ‘Automatic Assumptions’?” you may ask. Well, it’s our assumptions about what is “the right way to do things”. Our assumptions can trip us up, and create a problem in a relationship, if we don’t realize two things:
First: Our assumptions are often very different from another person’s.
To make this clearer: Have you ever spent a major holiday at someone else’s house? What do you notice?
Yes! They do things differently. They open presents a different way or at a different time. Or they eat ham or enchiladas instead of turkey. It can even feel “wrong” – they don’t do things “the right way!”
How it creates a problem in a relationship: My assumption might be that “Of Course we eat turkey at Easter. That’s how I grew up, so that’s what everyone does.” But if my sweetie grew up eating ham, “Of course we eat ham at Easter! That’s what you are supposed to eat.” And there we are, having a completely unnecessary fight in the grocery store. Why? Because didn’t realize we had completely different assumptions about the “right way”. And we don’t realize the second important thing we need to remember about our “automatic assumptions”:
Second: Our assumptions are Not set in concrete, handed down from Sinai with the ten commandments. They are the product of how we were raised, and our own past experiences.
Let me share a true story to show you this process in action:
My little grandson, Drew, was three. His family was visiting to attend his sister’s special event at the local church. Unfortunately, a few days before, Drew had walked through the family room on his way to the kitchen, during an action/drama movie. On the screen was a tower that had been set with explosives. The base blew and it fell over, crushing a lot of people. Well, when you’re three, what you see on TV is “reality”.
So there we were, all getting out of the car to walk into the church for the rehearsal, and Drew sees the concrete tower in front of the church. What do you suppose went through his little head?….Good guess!
He burst into tears, and was sobbing profusely. As I was standing there, stunned, they explained the problem – he expected the tower to fall on us and crush us. Poor little guy!
I encouraged the rest of the family to go into the church, and Drew and I went and played on the school yard equipment, and walked over to the small airport across the street and looked at the Cessna airplanes.
The whole time, every chance I had, I told Drew that “This was a Strong Tower! It was made of Concrete! It’s Strong!” By the end of the rehearsal, he let me push on the strong tower to show him that it wasn’t going to fall. By the end of the visit, he pushed his little hand against the tower, looked up at me and said firmly, “Dis a Strong Tower. Iz made of Contrete!” (I like his word even better than “concrete”).
I suddenly realized in class today that this is a great example of how we learn our “automatic assumptions”. (Thank you, Drew!) As children, we are very aware of everything going on around us. We pay close attention, because we are learning “This is how the world works.” Whatever we experience is the “right way to do things”. And yes, every time Drew visits now, he and I make a special trip to visit the “strong tower – made of contrete!” 🙂
Of course, in our lives, some assumptions are excellent to make, such as when my sweetie is napping on the couch. It’s a good plan to “assume” he or she is tired, and be especially quiet to let them get a bit of rest.
On the other hand, some assumptions can get in our way: “That’s not the Right Way to do the Dishes! I do This first.” Or “You are Not folding the towels Correctly!”
Maybe think about Why you believe that to be “right”. Why not consider if there are alternative ways that could be equally effective – that would get you to the same goal?
Now “towers” made of “contrete” are a good thing. Our assumptions about “The right way to do things” that are locked in concrete – not so good. So as we celebrate the last of summer, stripped down to shorts and t-shirts, perhaps we could consider if we have some “assumptions” in concrete that we could strip away, too. Life is much more fun when we can be adaptable, don’t you find? Enjoy the last of summer and Labor Day Weekend!