The assumptions that guide us

"If we don't break their rules there will be no tomorrow."

This morning I was writing my daily pages and it occurred to me that it would be interesting to make a list of all the assumptions I have operated under, in my life.* I would say “the assumptions I have operated under, in the past” — since the fact that I’m able to name them indicates some level of reduction in their power over me — except that many of these assumptions have held sway for so long and so unquestioned that it is still hard for me sometimes to not see them as truth. Hence my interest in making this list: to see what I have believed, still believe, and would like not to believe.

  • Bad things don’t happen to good people, unless they did something wrong.
  • Given any random person, chances are, that person knows more about the world than I do.
  • Older people are wiser.
  • White people understand how the world works, in ways that I never can.
  • Wealth, fame, power, beauty, or acknowledged expertise give their holders something special that the rest of us don’t have.
  • If I’m not already good at it, I shouldn’t even try it.
  • People in power or authority are usually there for a reason.
  • Foreigners, especially Europeans, are smarter than Americans.
  • I should always aim to be as pretty as possible.
  • Male interest, approval, or validation (not just in a sexual sense) is the best kind of attention.
  • Monogamy is the only possible option for a healthy, sustainable, long-term relationship.
  • Class is not that important in the US.
  • It’s always a good idea to be nice.
  • If someone doesn’t like me, I did something wrong.
  • If someone says something bad about me, there must be truth to it.
  • If I misbehave it’s my fault, but if someone else misbehaves, there must be something I’m not understanding.
  • It’s ungrateful to ask for more/better than what’s offered to me.
  • If I say what I truly think, people won’t respect me.
  • If I make mistakes, people will think less of me.
  • Nobody really likes an outspoken woman.
  • There is something deficient about me if I’m not “edgy.”
  • There is something shameful about sex, at least for women.
  • Porn is always bad.
  • Drugs are always bad.
  • If people want help, they should prove that they deserve it.
  • It’s really best not to talk about things that could offend people.
  • If I’ve offended someone, I should apologize.
  • It’s a failure on my part if I am not the best I can possibly be, in every aspect of my life.
  • A person’s appearance is a solid indicator of whether I should fear them.
  • People are going to dislike me unless I make an attempt to win them over.
  • If someone means well, we should excuse their actions.
  • Death is the worst thing that can happen to someone.

There are probably a million more, but these assumptions came to mind first.

It’s worth noting that any one of these can be extended in an infinity of more specific assumptions: “People in power or authority are usually there for a reason,” for instance, can be morphed into “Teachers know better” or “The police do things for a reason” or “Authors of books are sure to be wise and thoughtful people.”

It’s also worth noting that some of these assumptions contradict each other, e.g., “It’s always a good idea to be nice,” versus “There is something deficient about me if I’m not ‘edgy’.”

I think I’ve been given this exercise in the past and have chosen not to do it, on the assumption (another assumption!) that writing these things out would give them more power. I didn’t realize then that it is exactly the opposite — that seeing them baldly laid in print makes their absurdity more clear.


*Well, not all, because that would require the inclusion of assumptions like “the earth is round” and “gravity exists and is to be reckoned with” and “I exist and am not merely a figment of my or someone else’s imagination.”