You must stick to your conviction, but be ready to abandon your assumptions. — Denis Waitley
From an early age, I was warned by my parents, both of whom had a great deal of experience in the business world and otherwise, that one of the worst things I could do was make assumptions about who people were or their place in society.
Both parents made it clear that we’re all part of the human family, and we’re all in this thing called life together, and that making assumptions could lead to all sorts of bad things — from hurt feeling to unintended consequences.
My parents also made it clear that the way to avoid making assumptions about others is to treat everyone with impartiality and respect.
OK, I’ll admit, I’m not talking about blindly respecting known creeps and jerks. The best thing to do with that sort is to stir clear of them, if at all possible.
What I am talking about is ditching the kind of hierarchical thinking that puts men before women, CEOs ahead of receptionists, and owners in front of renters, in terms of our perception of their value both to us personally, and to society at large.
Mom and Dad told me a lot of stories to illustrate how people make assumptions.
Here’s one of my Mom’s favorite stories:
In spite of an important position on a Midwestern Supreme Court my Mom’s great-grandfather (a.k.a. “The Judge”) and his wife (a.k.a. “Mother”) preferred the quiet, rural tranquility of their modest farm.
One hot summer afternoon, as the Judge worked peacefully in his vegetable patch below a bright blue and cloudless sky, his wiry beard glistening with beads of perspiration and his overalls caked with mud, a lone traveler on foot made his way to the back porch of the farmhouse where Mother was shucking corn.
“Ma’am, I’m awful hungry, could you spare me some food?” he inquired. It wasn’t Mother’s way to give handouts. She believed people should earn their way through life, and eyeing the stranger over her spectacles, gestured with a nod of her head to the side yard and said, “I’d be happy to as soon as you cut a goodly amount of that wood over there.”
The stranger was taken aback, but stiffly complied. Soon he returned to the porch ready for his supper. Mother spied the pitiful amount of wood chopped and told the man in no uncertain terms that there would have to be far more wood chopped before he’d get any food.
Again he complied, and cut just enough additional wood to satisfy Mother. He was rewarded with pot roast and gravy, corn on the cob, steaming green beans, and hot country biscuits slathered with fresh-churned butter.
The man ate his dinner fast, and with gusto. As he hastily departed Mother’s kitchen, the man thanked Mother profusely for the meal, and spied a shortcut to the road through the garden.
In the garden he came upon The Judge, and curious to find out this gardener’s story, walked up to The Judge and asked, “How long have you been workin’ here?” The Judge, who had gotten the gist of what was going on out of the corner of his eye, responded wryly, “Oh, nigh-on to twenty years.” The stranger replied, “You’ve lasted that long here? Mister, my hat’s off to you!” And, pointing to the farmhouse with his sauce-stained thumb further exclaimed, “That old lady up there sure is hell, ain’t she?”
Happily for the stranger, there’s no record of his ever having come before The Judge in any subsequent court case. I am sure though, that had such an occasion arisen my great-great-grandfather would have been scrupulously fair.
Light-hearted though this particular story is, avoiding making assumptions in the first place, ipso facto avoids any negative fallout later.
Please share your thoughts on the dangers of making assumptions in the Comments section below.
In the meantime,
Bestest to all,