Careful, Making Assumptions Is Costly!

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The Story

In 1984, while living in Great Falls, Montana with my wife, Karen, and our sweet one-year-old, Kristin (actual house and child pictured), I wrote a letter to the local paper. Much to my surprise, it was published.

The piece confronted, probably with a defensive and immature tone, how Montanans viewed the Miller’s home state of New York.

I was attempting to counter the myth held by westerners that New York is a “concrete jungle.” In reality, New York is millions of acres of rolling hills, mountains, streams, lakes, forests, farms, and dairy cows.

For Upstate New Yorkers like Karen and me, “The Big Apple” does not define our home state.

Once published, though, I wondered if my letter might make some Great Falls’ locals none-too-pleased with me.

The next morning, I found out—or so I assumed. Overnight, someone had placed on our porch a homemade wire cage containing one …

… live rattlesnake!

The Reaction

At 25 and 23-years-old, we were anxious and angry.

Who would do this to us?

Why did they threaten us in this way?

Will they vandalize our property next?

Is baby Kristin at risk?

Do we need new locks?

Should we call the cops?

Why are people so vindictive, mean, and petty?!?

Yes, we asked a bunch of lousy questions! But then …

The Story Behind the Story

That evening, the phone rang. It was Roger, a thirtysomething dad and amiable guy I knew only through racquetball (a huge sport back then, just FYI).

Me: “Oh, hey, Rog. Sorry, I can’t play tonight. We’ve got a lot going on …”

Roger: “That’s okay … I was just calling to see if you liked my gift.”

Me: “Um, gift?”

Roger: “Yeah, the rattler I caught and put on your porch. I know you love reptiles and thought you’d want to see him.”

<LONG PAUSE>

Me: “Oh.. well, yes—thanks, Rog! How kind of you to think of me!”

The Cost

Assumptions. Not very productive, are they? They can lead to negative emotions, relational pain, and strife that NEVER need to happen.

How much better would our world be if we didn’t assume? Can you imagine thinking the BEST of people, not the worst? How would this change our political, societal, and social media cultures? What if we refrained from leaping to conclusions or making baseless judgments leading to unfair accusations?

Wouldn’t that be an outstanding way to live?

The Fix

Bluntly, this is a JUST STOP moment. Just stop assuming. Learn to pause and ask questions to discover new information. Discipline yourself to not form opinions without facts.

There’s an axiom in counseling that goes like this: First we meet, then we treat.

How about first we meet, gain knowledge, and work to understand before we form conclusions?

In the end, I must accept PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY for the assumptions living within my mind. I must strive to identify, acknowledge, understand, and eliminate the assumptions that drive my thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Life will be so much better when I do.

So if personal growth is what you’re after—not to mention a better world—grab a mirror and get to work breaking the bad habit of making assumptions.

And, might I add, I assume you will!

What assumption did you make that you now regret?

Share here!

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8 Responses

  1. Great illustration John. Thank you for sharing an excellent example – it is SOOO easy to assume.
    And how cool is a live rattlesnake!

  2. Very good QBQ today John! Good job. I wanted to add one item relative to your blog. I find that I am quick to judge the behavior of others–especially if they are angry, upset, irritated, disgusted etc. Too often, my assuption is they are upset because of me or something I did when in fact IT IS NOT ALWAYS ABOUT ME–instead they just might going through a tough day and unfortunately I caught some of their emotional overload. While their out of control behavior might still be caustic and a sign they lack self control, by NOT personalizing it, I am more likely to be understanding of their difficulties and more thoughtful versus resentful.

  3. I like Jim’s comment. One can spend so much time, that you never can get back, making assumptions and / or assuming we know what the situation is, only to find out you weren’t even close. And to make matters worse, you can become so committed to your assumptions that you waste even more time defending your unjustified position.

  4. I have enjoyed reading these posts for a long time now! Thank you very much for providing all of this material for us to help improve our day to day lives! I like the idea behind the message, and for the most part I think our lives would be so much better by following it. However, in the example outlined above, I believe that assuming the “best” is almost wrong. Of all the possible reasons you’d have a snake left on your porch, particularly after something happened you thought might bring angst against you, I would ‘assume’ it’d be very unlikely a gift would make it’s way up near the top of your list. In this case, thankfully it was nothing malicious, but many of the thoughts you listed in the post were more than reasonable thoughts. If it were in fact a pre-cursor to further vengeful events, you’d want to at least take notice and perhaps be more careful – particularly with a baby around! I would almost liken assuming the best in that particular case to ignoring the warning signs. I understand the point you’re making that assuming the worst put you and your family in a scared and unpleasant state of mind when in reality there was nothing to worry about, and routinely assuming the worst makes our world a much darker place, but sometimes assuming “not the best” can be a healthy and necessary measure.

  5. Assumptions and preconceived notions are both like angry rattlesnakes – they’ll all bite you in the A**

    Bruce.

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