A family of five was rushed to the hospital to have their stomachs washed out after the cat with which they had shared a meal of mushrooms suddenly began to have stomach contractions. While members of the family showed no signs of illness, the doctor still had them rushed to the hospital. When they returned home they found the cat feeling well, after having produced five kittens.
The above illustration, which speaks about a false assumption of a family, sounds humorous. But what about the hasty assumptions in our lives which lead to untold conflicts within interpersonal relationships? Rarely do we find humor in these situations.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines assumption as “accepting something to be true without question or proof.” And presupposition means “to think that something is true in advance without having any proof.” Assumption and presupposition are quite related and inseparable. While the former accepts something to be true right away without scrutiny, the latter imagines more and reasons less. Both are equally dangerous because they are based on subjective perceptions than on objective facts.
Now assumptions can either be right or wrong. However, in this small article, I used the word ‘assumption’ in the context of assuming things falsely without knowing the exact facts. I have keenly observed that most of the conflicts in relationships begin with assumptions, which often prove to be wrong. Later, these assumptions are fed day and night by adding more and more presuppositions, which ultimately result in bitterness and unhealthy relationships. I have witnessed numerous broken relationships - within families, relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors – just because of small assumptions. Oh, what troubling results these quick assumptions can reap in our relationship with others! As the little foxes ruin massive fields, so do these quick and unexamined assumptions. Believe me - they are incredibly disastrous.
Meet an Expert of Folly Assumptions
I can relate countless assumptions I’ve often entertained in my life without knowing the facts and ended up behaving foolishly. I can say I am a Ph.D. in assumptions:-) No wonder this has caused a great difficulty in getting along with people. I’ve not only lost the joy of relationships but sometimes even the joyous people. Let me share some of my experiences.
* One person didn’t call me at a said time. I assumed that to be an act of disrespect and was disturbed. Later I came to know that he didn’t have enough money to make that call.
* I was preaching in a place wherein I often found a young man sleeping. I was so disturbed looking at him that one day I rebuked him publicly. Later I came to know that this person wakes up early at 3 a.m. to prepare food, along with his parents, which he goes out on the streets to sell, during the early part of the day. And by the time he sits with the church, he falls asleep due to insufficient sleep. I felt ashamed of my assumption.
* A person gave me a word to meet at a particular time. When I tried calling him before I could start off from my home to meet him, his mobile was turned off. I tried calling his cell phone repeatedly but still saw that it was switched off. I was hurt assuming that he was trying to ignore me. Later I came to know that this person forgot his mobile in his relative’s house because of which he could not access my call.
Apart from this I can also recollect instances when people assumed falsely about my actions.
* I was riding my bike one day and did not greet my friend who was passing by across me. He assumed that I had ignored him and later spoke to me sarcastically about that incident. I had to explain to him that I sincerely did not notice him.
* I was in a meeting when I got a call from a person and was compelled to cut the line. Hence, this person assumed that I deliberately did so thinking I wasn’t interested in speaking to him.
* Sometimes my voice sounds a bit dull and flat on the phone. This happens mostly when I am depressed about something or quite absorbed in some work that requires my full attention. This has nothing to do with the person who might have called me at that particular time. In such situations there is a possibility for the person on the other side to misunderstand me as a sign of rejection and may get hurt. Instead of perceiving my pre-occupation, if that person assumed wrongly and instead of clarifying if he built negativity upon it, things might go far enough to potentially damage relationships.
Dear friends, I have learned through my folly, how one small assumption of a little act can create huge problems in our relationships. Many such minor issues have unnecessarily and unfortunately been made big by unexamined assumptions and presuppositions.
Knowing the Facts
I am not saying we are always wrong in assuming things. I am not even implying that we have to always be positive thinkers. Negative thinkers focus on negatives while ignoring the positives and positive thinkers focus on positives while ignoring the negatives. I suppose both are extreme stances. I neither suggest negative thinking nor positive thinking but thinking rightly. Confronting the negatives lovingly and appreciating the positives honestly is a sign of balanced life. It is not healthy to come to conclusions without knowing or having the clear facts. It is good to clarify issues than build mountainous assumptions, which may later become difficult to deal with.
How many relationships have been broken just because of entertaining assumptions which may not be true, often resulting in loss of peace and relationships! Some relationships are detached forever without any hope of reconciliation. One thing I have noticed - Our human tendency is too quick to misunderstand and slow to understand rightly. We frequently fall prey to wrong assumptions and presuppositions and magnify the situations rather than simplify them for better understanding. This is because we are too self-obsessed and insecure. We always think about what people think about us, how they treat us, how we appear to others….etc, rather than understanding and caring for others. How true it is in the Holy Bible, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions” (Pro. 18:2).
People, we cannot be amiable with this kind of thought life. Indeed we will be the unhappiest and the most pitiful persons on the face of the earth. I have observed that the greatest problem in interpersonal relationships is neither situations nor people but our own perceptions. There were surplus occasions in my life wherein I had to suffer day and night with frustration towards people due to false assumptions, until final confrontation of the issue showed that the real problem was either too small or didn’t exist in the first place. I unnecessarily entertained thoughts that were not true at all. Charles R. Swindoll rightly pointed out, “We do what we do with others because of the way we think” . Remember, we don’t look at people as they are; we see them as we think. We behave with others the way we think about them. How we view others shapes our relationship.
Therefore, I suppose, our attitude towards people ought to change. Healthy attitude towards people is vital to maintain healthy relationships. During conflicting times, it is always good to clarify issues than clenching to our own views. We usually don’t confess our hurts honestly and clarify the issues directly. Instead we are great engineers in building and hiding behind forts of unnecessary imaginations and assumptions. Examining and knowing the facts can save us from lot of troubles in relationships. If our assumptions cause us to suffer, it is wise to approach the person directly and ask courteously, “I thought about you in this way, what do you think about this? Can you help me understand?” Let us not dissolve from relationships by foolish assumptions; rather learn to resolve the problems in relationships appropriately. Take heed, false assumptions inevitably lead to misunderstanding, sudden reaction, anger, bitterness, frustration, disrespect, judgmental attitude, gossip and eventually result in broken, unhappy relationships.
Understanding the Motives
Recently I read a penetrating statement, by Edwin Louis Cole, that put me in deep thinking. He wrote, “Most people judge others by their actions, and themselves by their intentions.” How true it is! Many times we say or do something and later confess, “I didn’t mean that or I didn’t intend to do that!” But we don’t apply this to others saying, “Perhaps he or she didn’t mean that or didn’t intend to do that.” We ought to learn to understand others by their attitudes since most of our assumptions are based on either appearances or words rather than motives. As we are constantly involved, either consciously or subconsciously, in evaluating people, we should be careful about how we evaluate people’s communication and their appearances. Renowned counselor, Larry Crabb, observed it so well: “How a person mentally evaluates an event determines how he feels about that event and how he will behave in response to it.”
Communication: It is said that most of the problems are a result of faulty communications. A leading marriage counselor says that at least half of all divorces result from faulty communications between spouses. So it is important not to base our judgment on words alone. I have noticed that many of us are poor communicators of our feelings and attitudes. There were countless times I was misunderstood, as well as I misunderstood others, just because of faulty communication. As I was writing this article, I was involved in a conflict that was about to tear apart a long friendship between three friends. When probed carefully, the major problem was in improper communication and impulsive assumptions. It was so nice that we all realized our faults in the light of God’s Spirit and a lovely relationship was saved. During problematic situations, it is always good to ask, “When you said this, what did you intend to say? Will you please help me understand? Or I thought about your words in this way, am I right?”
Appearance: Jesus once rebuked, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (Jn. 7:24). Jesus had to rebuke the people who frequently judged based on outward appearance. We must not judge on appearance alone. There were times when I was thinking of some people as proud and indifferent. My understanding was based on the way they appeared. Amazingly, usually such people became good friends and my assumptions proved to be a folly. Besides, introverts are always assumed as being unfriendly. But such people become wonderful buddies when we get to know them closely. I realized we don’t know who a person truly is unless we know him or her intimately. Some of us have a bad attitude of scanning the people in our minds with wrong assumptions without knowing who they truly are. It is not wise to depend on our impulses.
A friend of mine was behaving quite strange. I was so hurt that I almost thought of quitting my relationship with him. My mind was bombarded with assumptions after assumptions and I was greatly disturbed by his behavior. But a question came to my mind, “Do I have all the facts about why is he behaving in such a way?” The answer was, “No”. I finally decided to sit with him and clarify the issue and resisted the assumptions that crept into my mind. When the matter was brought before him, he started to pour out his heart and recognized the strong assumptions within him that controlled his conduct. He felt extremely sorry for his behavior and we got reconciled. Later, I thought, if I hadn’t taken effort to clarify the issue with him by yielding to my assumptions, our relationship would have been wrecked.
Furthermore, there will be occasions wherein we get offended by someone. We assume a lot about what had happened and slowly try to avoid that person. We no more relate in a well-mannered way. The regretful thing with this kind of situation is that the person who offended doesn’t know what’s happening on our mind and what had hurt us. Then observing our behavior this person starts to assume all other negative things about us and finally the relationship gets broken. Sounds funny, isn’t it? But this usually happens in relationships, reaping damaging results. One little effort from us to initiate and talk about the problematic issue with the person peacefully can save wonderful relationships. We must control ourselves from coming to quick assumptions and judgments. Charles Swindoll gives us the right reasons as to why we have to do so:
* We do not know all the facts.
* We are unable to read motives.
* We find it impossible to be totally objective.
* We lack “the big picture.”
* We live with blind spots.
* We are prejudiced and have blurred perspective.
* Most of all, we ourselves are imperfect and inconsistent.
At last, I thank my Lord Jesus Christ for opening my eyes to see my folly assumptions. I have to honestly confess that I am not completely free from false assumptions. I suppose no one is ever completely free from prejudices and presuppositions. This is a constant battle. Nevertheless, I am learning to become quite careful to control my thoughts from quick assumptions. Friends, if we are careful in our thinking pattern, we’ll save ourselves from becoming victims of embarrassment, loss of peace and can safeguard our relationship with others. It is said that assumption is the mother of all screw-ups. So flee from assumptions and make relationships joyful by learning to understand people.
1. Assumption, England Post, in Homemade, April, 1989 <>
2. Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening (Texas: Word Publishing, 1996), pg. 156
3. Edwin Louis Cole, Maximized Manhood (Pennsylvania: Whitaker House, 1982), pg. 101.
4. Larry Crabb, Effective Biblical Counseling (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), pg. 90.
5. John C. Maxwell, Be A People Person (Colorado: Victor Books, 1994), pg. 22
6. Charles R. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening (Texas: Word Publishing, 1996), pg. 169