The memory of Ms. Bronk teaching us the true meaning of the word assume is one of the most vivid I have of high school. I can see her standing on that podium at the front of the band hall. Someone had, foolishly, used assumption as an excuse for why they hadn’t done something. Ms. Bronk asked if we knew what assuming did. Either none of us really knew, or we could tell by the expression on her face that answering would only draw her frustrated gaze upon on us. A couple of seconds passed before she broke the silence. “No? Well, let me show you.” The chalk clicked and clacked against the shuttering blackboard behind her as she swiftly wrote out the word “ASSUME” in all upper case. She continued, “Assuming makes a…” BOOM, her hands covered all but the letters ASS. “…out of…” BOOM. Then they covered all but the U in the middle. “…and…” SHHHH she slid her hands over to reveal on the the letters ME. It took me a second to say it altogether. To assume makes an ASS out of U and ME. I wasn’t the only one that took time. The delayed collective chuckle said as much.
Assuming is a dangerous action. Not only does it make and ass out of you and me; it also usually hurts you and me. Assumption’s sting is always profound on the back end once we’ve been shown the consequences. Assumption’s acerbic bight comes from the knowledge that with just the slightest bit of inquiry, if we had only kept an open mind, a dash of humility even, we might not be reaping the current drama our assuming had sewn. We think, “All I had to do was ask… or seek a little more.”
Now, assumption isn’t filling in the blank. I’m a writer, a storyteller. My mind fills in blanks. Watch Castle. His storytelling mind helps fill in those blanks the cops can’t, and that’s why New York is a safer place, people. No, I don’t think we can help hearing news like, “Hey, did you hear that Sally left Johnny?” without having out minds instinctually fill in the blanks. Why? Was he abusive? Were they that unhappy? Was there another man? All of this happens in the blink of an eye.
Assumption is when we take those fleeting thoughts and actually believe them. You don’t know Jack, and until you do, you should act like it. Have the humility to admit you don’t know. Hard part is that our beliefs are rarely spoken. Right? Us and our American passive-aggressiveness. It’s in our non-verbal language we let people know what we really think, while our mouths flap out something sweet. That southern influence lingers.
Example: being left by my wife brought out all sorts of assumptions, and almost none of them were spoken to my face. People talk. I’d have a friend come up and tell me they heard about me being left and they’d begin to tell me how they heard I was “this awful thing” or that I was “terrible in this way or that.” My eyes would widen, and I’d try to calmly explain what ACTUALLY happened. Then their eyes would bulge as they’d realize they had just spread a… yup… assumption. Somewhere along the way, someone who knew nothing talked to someone as if they knew something, and voila… two asses were born, and in the end I was deeply hurt, and my reputation was scarred. It hurt greatly knowing that people were going to assume I had to do something terrible if my wife left me, that I must be awful, that something must really be wrong with me. There are things wrong with me, but in truth, nothing out of the ordinary for a human. Another assumption made about me would be revealed when I would first tell someone about my being left and being divorced and their faces would look not sad but grim, disgusted even. When it was their turn to speak they would share how they were disappointed in me, that they thought I loved God, how dare I that I would go through with a divorce. They’d start spouting scripture on how God hates divorce, and blah blah blah. Again, their faces would change when I was able to share that they held an assumption that many people hold, and that is that it takes two to get divorced. It doesn’t. If someone wants out, the state of Texas will let them out. They didn’t even check. They just… assumed that it took two, and so held in their minds false information about me.
Sad truth is that it happens a lot, particularly in divorce. So many people who have gone through what I have shared the same experience. People judged them based off of nothing. There was a blank in the narrative and they filled it. Thing is, that blank is there because it’s not your business. Not everything is meant for public consumption.
It is in humility and patience we find the maturity to say to ourselves, “I don’t know what happened, and I am okay with that.” Then, when someone asks if you’ve heard about how Johnny left Sally you can say yes. You’ll start talking about how sad it is, how you wonder what happened, and here is where victory is had… at this moment you’ll already have admitted you don’t know, and that’s what you’ll say. “I don’t know. Could be a lot of different reasons.” And you leave it what it is. Then when they say what they think, you can ask them where they got their information. You won’t just take it as gospel, because for all you know they are falling into the same trap of filling in blanks, of assuming. When they say they just think so, or they pieced it together because of blah blah blah you can just say, “So, you don’t actually know?” When they admit they don’t you will have loved your brother or sister well. Not only will you have protected the one being gossiped about, but you’ll be blessing the one gossiping by ending the line of destruction their assumption was blazing. Your thoughts hold value in your brother’s and sister’s eyes. I cannot tell you the damage done hearing the third hand assumptions made about me during this past year. It broke my heart, and made me feel sub-human. To say that I did not feel loved was an understatement.
Don’t be an ass (the donkey-kind, not the other). Don’t assume. Love your brother and sister. Assumption is judgment based on ignorance. We condemn someone based off of guesses. How could that ever be a good thing?
“A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.”
“Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.”