Thursday, December 09, 2010

You know what they say about assumptions...

Those of you who know me well know that my life has been filled with turmoil this year. There has been significant strife in several of my personal relationships and in relationships that are interconnected with mine. And, again, if you know me well, you know that this is the thing I hate most: Broken Relationships.

I'm exhausted.

I'm confused.

I'm hurt.

I barely feel like this is real life.

And, sometimes I'm really angry. In the last 2 months, I've become increasingly frustrated with the number of people who presume to tell me what I think. Yes, you read that right. I have had a number of people decide what it is I think and have taken action based on that assumption. It's maddening.

I've had someone latch onto the last half of something I said, completely disregard the qualifier in the sentence, and decide I have a particular view that I can do nothing to change in his mind.

I've had someone view my facebook posts and decide that I was being disrespectful, or intentionally hurtful, when I was just going about my life amidst an impossible and painful situation.

I've even been informed that I'm angry with someone and can barely recover from something she said, when the truth is, she never said it and I'm not angry.

It's all too much sometimes. It reminds me of being a child and having my mom accuse me of purposely disobeying her or disrespecting her by not doing the dishes when the truth was, I lost track of time caught up in a book.

As I began processing all of this frustration, I ran across a quote by Henry Winkler saying, "Assumptions are the termites of relationships". As someone who loves a visual image of an idea, that quote struck a chord with me. I believe it's absolutely true. I believe that is why the first step given in Matthew 18 in how to deal with a brother who has sinned against you is to go to him first; go to him alone. So many situations could be cleared up or "nipped in the bud" if we dealt in honest communication with one another. Instead, we assume what the other person meant instead of just asking them. Maybe our assumption was correct, or just maybe, we got it all wrong.

Tonight, as I was looking for some evening reading, I stumbled upon the book by Stephen Covey, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". In the first chapter of a book that's been on my "to read" list forever, I found a perfect illustration of this problem of assumption. He begins by talking about paradigms and explains them in this way:

For our purposes, a simple way to understand paradigms is to see them as maps. We all know that "The map is not the territory". A map is simply an explanation of certain aspects of the territory. That's exactly what a paradigm is. It is a theory, an explanation, or model of something else.

Suppose you wanted to arrive at a specific location in central Chicago. A street map of the city would be a great help to you in reaching your destination. But suppose you were given the wrong map. Through a printing error, the map labeled "Chicago" was actually a map of Detroit. Can you imagine the frustration, the ineffectiveness of trying to reach your destination?

You might work on your behavior - you could try harder, be more diligent, double your speed. But your efforts would only succeed in getting you to the wrong place faster.

You might work on your attitude - you could think more positively. You still wouldn't get to the right place, but perhaps you wouldn't care. Your attitude would be so positive, you'd be happy wherever you were.

The point is, you'd still be lost. The fundamental problem has nothing to do with your behavior or your attitude. It has everything to do wih having a wrong map.

If you have the right map of Chicago, then diligence becomes important, and when you encounter frustratig obstacles along the way, then attitude can make a real difference. But the first and most important requirement is the accuracy of the map.

Each of us has many, many maps in our head, which can be divided into two main categories: maps of the way things are, or realities and maps of the way things should be, or values. We interpret everything we experience through these mental maps. We seldom question their accuracy; we're usually even unaware that we have them. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be.

And our attitudes and beaviors grow out of those assumptions. The way we see things is the source of the way we think and the way we act.


I first formally studied this phenomenon in Education Psychology. We talked of schemas or filters that are part of the way a child processes information. The things we experience and the things we learn tend to alter our perception and add another filter to the information we receive.

In my personal situation, I believe assumption and perception has played a large role in the turmoil. There are many mislabeled maps floating around that are causing chaos and confusion. I just keep praying that we get it all straightened out soon.

But, until then, here are some truths about me.

1. I'm not perfect. Shocking, I know. Sadly, it took me years to realize that was ok and even longer to say it out loud. I'm not perfect. No one is. I am human and, even though I won't mean to, at some point I will hurt you, disappoint you, or fail you.

2. I'm forgiven. I don't deserve grace but I'm so thankful for it. Because of grace, I don't have to be perfect. I can stand back up when I fall. There is hope. There is healing.

3. I like things to be linear and logical. I like structure and rules. Things have to make sense to me or they bounce around in my brain like flubber until I find a suitable storage container.

4. I'm a terrible liar. If you think I've lied to you, I can pretty much guarantee that I didn't. There have been a few times in my life where I have tried to get away with something or deliberately lied, and I've told on myself everytime. If I don't straight away confess, I usually give myself away through my behavior. If you want to know what I think, just ask me.

5. I want amazing things for the people that I love. I am a person who really enjoys relationships and connecting with people on a deep level. (Little known fact: I'm actually quite shy when I first meet people). I LOVE to celebrate with the people I love and I grieve deeply for their pain.

6. I want desperately to love like Jesus. A lofty goal. I have a long way to go.

7. If I'm wrong, I'll say so, take responsibility and apologize. But, if I believe I am right, I generally won't back down.

8. I'm very black and white. There's little room for grey in my thinking. This part of my personality can be very frustrating, but it's how I was made. I like black and white, but it's tough living in a grey world.

9. I hate broken relationships. Nothing frustrates me more than when relationships fall apart.

10. I'm very forgiving. Some of my friends think I'm too forgiving, but I see no point in holding on to so much hurt and anger. I'd rather see the relationship be restored than see someone punished for a wrong, or perceived wrong.

So, that's a pretty good map to start. As for me, I'm taking a step back and checking the labels on my maps. What things have I assumed? How am I seeing things incorrectly? There's nothing I can do to change other's perceptions; but, I can certainly re-evaluate my own.

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