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.”
Wow. A lot of these I could check off, as in, ‘I believe that, too!’ What is surprising is that I’ve never thought of them as assumptions, but rather as just the way life is. Where, in truth, they should all be questioned rather than accepted. Great list. Thanks for making me think again.
Oh thank you for the thinking. 🙂 I had an interesting and long conversation with Erik last week about objectivity, and whether it exists. I am not convinced that it does exist, and that’s part of this questioning assumptions — my coming to see everything as subjective. Not to say some things aren’t more often true than not; disavowing objectivity doesn’t mean I don’t still agree that, say, it’s generally better to not kill people than to kill them. But I don’t think most things are 100% all the time. I think that’s what makes me want to write, actually: this feeling that my truth is not quite the same as everybody else’s truth, and vice versa.
maybe it is not the most appropriate word but your list is fantastic. well done for being so open and honest and for courage to share those thoughts with others. you encourage me to write my assumption list. it is such a powerful tool. big, big hugs to you
Oh thank you, Aga! I love to think of you writing such a list too. ❤ ❤ ❤
Maybe you could now write a more difficult exercise. Write down the only assumptions that you are holding now, whether they are on the above list or not. This exercise may involve searching for even more hidden ones, reconsidering those you would immediately take off the above list (as you would assume you would not be holding them any longer) as well as finally dropping those that you assume to be irresistible.
Hello Michelle. Actually, I still hold onto many of the assumptions I included in my list — even though I wish I didn’t. For instance, “If someone doesn’t like me, I did something wrong”: I recognize that as an assumption and disbelieve it in theory, but in real life, anytime I suspect someone doesn’t like me, I instantly think of how I could have done something differently.
List all and only those assumptions that you hold “in real life” and then think about whether you want to keep holding them, in real life. When you don’t want to, remove them, not in theory, but in real life. The purpose of an exercise is not that you do it, but that you use the greater mastery you acquired after doing it, if necessary over and over.
An interesting exercise and list you have here. Assumptions come from all angles and sources, some may prompt you to “break the rules” and some seep into who you are. I suspect they are the hardest to address if the rational side of you thinks that any assumption you have is irrational.
A black work colleague conducted an interesting experiment about assumptions one quiet, kicking around doing nothing sort of office afternoon. He was wearing a thin fleece with a logo across the chest.
He was an office joker, liked by everyone, and entertaining us with some rap(port). He suddenly said something like, “Haha, your all laughing now. Do you stop laughing when I do this? ” and he flicked his hood over his head.
The impact was arresting. Our assumptions kicked in though we all probably fought them in our own way. Our friend could easily have suddenly become a threat – just because we assumed that that is what a threat looks like.
I refrained from listing those kinds of assumptions in my post (race, gender, size, physical ability, etc) because I didn’t want to go there in detail, but we all have those and the sooner we examine them the better. When I worked at the public library in LA, I spent most of my time alone in an unlocked room off the entry hall. I never quite forgot that this was a vulnerable position and every time someone came into that room (for legit reasons or not… lots of different kinds of people at the library, let’s put it that way) I had to do a quick sizing them up to figure out how alert I should be in that encounter. I *think* my conclusions were based on true observations rather than stereotypical assumptions (for instance, noticing not the hoodie but the twitchy movements) but as sizing someone up is essentially an exercise in quick judgment, I can’t say for sure.