The Power of Positive Assumptions
This past spring, I found myself waiting
in the evening darkness in the middle school
parking for my son to return from a wrestling
tournament. Such scenes are not uncommon for
parents of active students who are not yet
old enough to drive. I have definitely developed
empathy for chauffeurs.
Finally, the bus pulled into the parking
lot and wrestlers began to deboard. Many quickly
jumped into their waiting parents' cars and
sped off. Within minutes, the parking lot
was nearly empty, but there was still no sign
of my son. I imagined him goofing off on the
bus and carelessly wasting my time, and I
was fairly irritated when he finally emerged
from the bus and headed my direction.
I quickly learned that my assumption was
wrong. Patrick had noticed that his teammates
left the bus cluttered with soda cans and
candy wrappers, and, without being asked,
he stayed behind to clean up. The next day,
while his coach punished the rest of the team
with extra conditioning after practice, Patrick
was excused. I'm not sure if those junior
high students learned their lesson, but I
know that I did.
I had needlessly introduced stress into my
life by incorrectly assuming a negative situation.
Ironically, if I knew what was actually going
on in the bus, I would have been proud. Instead,
I was critical and angry. I had sabotaged
my own happiness.
Negative assumptions can do that to us, if
we're not careful. We're invited to a dinner
party, and we envision uncomfortable conversation
instead of stimulation. We're assigned a task
at work, and we anticipate tedium instead
of fulfillment. Our child asks for our help
with homework, and we expect frustration instead
of a bonding opportunity. Our previous experiences
have conditioned us to associate certain activities
with unpleasantness, so much so that we're
oblivious of other possibilities. That's human
Much assumption occurs in the subconscious,
which is built on accumulated experience.
It's the brain's way of taking shortcuts to
conclusions. We don't have to prove to ourselves
that the glowing orange burner on the stovetop
is hot. Our brain communicates that assumption
and keeps us from burning ourselves.
If we can assume certain things to be true,
we can reach resolutions and conclusions much
more quickly. This is how scientists use assumptions.
They don't have to establish that water consists
of hydrogen and oxygen before they use it
as a medium in their experiments.
As long as assumptions are absolutely correct,
they are extremely helpful. It's when an assumption
is based on a variable, such as human behavior,
that they become unreliable and sometimes
misleading. Though prior experience might
lead us to fairly accurate assumptions of
human behavior, it's often a mistake not to
consider other possibilities. Sometimes, life
surprises us, as I found out in that parking
lot on that cold March evening.
My son had goofed around before, and he is
sometimes absent-minded, which results in
him losing important items, like his shoes
or phone. My mind automatically went to that
scenario and closed out all other possibilities.
Since that night in the parking lot, I've
challenged myself to assume the positive in
all human interactions. It's not always easy.
When that guy cut me off in traffic the other
night, I convinced myself that it was unintentional,
and it was more important for him to reach
his destination quickly than it was for me
to get home. I don't know if that was true
- just like I don't know if the opposite was
true, but thinking that way has brought more
peace and happiness into my life.
-- Mitch Arnold