Dangerous Assumptions

by James Rudy Gray

Too many problems people develop are the result of their own assumptions. An assumption can be a self-imposed tool for emotional distress. James Dobson has pointed out that differing assumptions are the basis of all miscommunication.

Defining the word is relatively simple, but learning to replace assumptive living with understanding is more challenging. An assumption is the act of taking something for granted as true without proof, reason, or evidence. Many people get into the habit of making too many assumptions too often. The result is emotional distress and frequently relationship difficulty.

Assumptions set a person up for potential problems. Understanding and effective communication serve as preventative medicine for the alluring malady of assumptive living.

At its core, assumptive living is a spiritual problem. Hebrews 12:1 counsels us to "lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us." I am convinced that the sin of Hebrews 12:1 is theologically realized as unbelief and psychologically demonstrated as pride. Pride has been a basic human problem and is the root of sin. Pride shows up in various ways in a person's life. Living by assumptions when we could choose to walk by faith is prideful. Some of the words that describe assumption are arrogance, supposition, and presupposition.

Assumptive living is a common trait among people. A grandmother wanted to visit her new granddaughter about 200 miles away. She decided she would go during the Christmas holidays. However, just before she left she developed a respiratory infection that required antibiotic treatment. This meant she would be on high doses of antibiotics while visiting with her son's family. She assumed everything would be okay, and she looked forward to holding and pampering her new granddaughter. She was both angry and hurt when her daughter-in-law would not allow her to hold the baby. Tense moments and terse words were shared. Hurt feelings and a strained relationship followed. She cut her trip short and returned home.

Then she met with a counselor. The baby had been born with a heart condition that required medication. The mother was a first-time mom who was also a nurse. The grandmother also had a reputation for being a controller. When she was unable to hold her granddaughter, her assumption proved to be the cause of her hurt—not the fact that she did not get to hold the baby. In counseling, she was able to see how she had unknowingly set herself up for the emotional distress she experienced. When many of the variables were examined, she realized she had driven to her son's home with a conclusion of how things would be already decided in her mind. She was not flexible about options, problems, or even circumstances.

What could she have done differently? She could have replaced her assumption with clear understanding and honest communication before she made the trip. She could have shared her desire to hold the child but also that she did not want to jeopardize the baby's health. She could have done other things; but all the things she could have done required communication and understanding. She, in essence, made a decision that affected several people without even consulting or informing these people about the situation.

When a person is in the habit of assuming too much too often, he or she also experiences trouble and disappointments. From that unhappy condition any number of possible emotional symptoms can arise. Instead of living by assumptions, clients can be taught to strive to understand better, communicate more effectively, and think less selfishly. It is easy for a more introverted personality to analyze, plan, and conclude something without ever sharing very much with those around them. Involving others in matters that involve them is not only good sense, it helps strengthen relationships. Proverbs 20:18 says, "Prepare plans by consultation."

Jesus clearly taught us that we do not know what a day may bring forth. Neither can we predict how someone will feel or act. We must not assume that we can. We can prepare, understand, think, communicate, and pray.  Often an assumptive way of living indicates a need for control, security, power, or importance. Proverbs 18:2 says "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind."

People can find help from some of the emotional distress that living by assumptions causes when they learn to replace assumptions with understanding and sharing. "Look before you leap," says an old adage. A new adage could be, "Look before you leap and don't live by assumptions."

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