Understanding Assumptions

While my high school chemistry teacher supplied a crasser definition, which I’m sure most of you have heard as well, to assume is simply to believe something to be true without any proof. An assumption is an unexamined belief that we infer when we haven’t taken time to critically examine something (e.g., a person, situation, etc.).

Assumptions are efficient ways for our brains to process the world. They allow us to save energy by drawing on past experiences to discover patterns in how the world works. We automatically apply these patterns to situations, and they can be helpful in quickly providing a baseline for how to move forward. Take driving, for example. Assuming other drivers will follow the rules of the road keeps everyone safe and helps us get where we want to go as efficiently as possible.

When we take assumptions further, however, and use them to determine intention, we start operating on very shaky ground. Returning to driving as an example, how many times have you assumed ill intentions of another driver. Remember the guy who cut you off? Did that on purpose, right?

In other words, assumptions, like emotions, guide us. They indicate a direction to take, provide a starting point, and can guide us to appropriate behavior. Yet, they should not be what we use to make decisions about relationships, intentions, or motivations. We must always remember that assumptions and emotions are based on perception, and perception is never completely accurate and often very wrong.

Assumptions in Relationships and Beliefs

When we allow assumptions to drive how we operate within relationships and to become the substance of our belief systems, we find ourselves in increasingly deeper states of dysfunction. We believe too much without much proof, and we blame or react (i.e., project our assumptions) based on inaccurate information, leading to seemingly unrecoverable misunderstandings.

Adding judgment based solely on assumptions invites conflict. When we take assumptions beyond the basic patterns they present and use them to mold relationships and construct beliefs, we develop a life based on untruth. When beliefs and relationships are built in this way, they exist on an unstable foundation that will eventually crumble.

Moving Beyond Assumptions

The solution to moving beyond our assumptions is found within its definition: avoid acting, judging, etc. without proof, and examine your beliefs. The Bible provides clarification for doing both.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)

“Do not judge by appearance but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 2:7)

“We demolish any arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the other.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

To move beyond assumptions, then, and build relationships and beliefs based on truth, we need to:

  1. Seek understanding.
  2. Remember that appearances are deceiving.
  3. Be driven by love and sound thinking.
  4. Let the power of God work in us.
  5. Take our thoughts captive.
  6. Line our thoughts up with God’s word.
  7. Avoid selfishness.
  8. Think of others.

Realizing that your way of seeing a person or situation isn’t the only way and might not even be the correct way is a starting point for moving beyond assumptions. An essential part of this is lining your thinking up with God’s word and allowing it to direct you into truth.

A Starting Point

Not sure where to start with incorporating this approach to moving beyond assumptions? Begin with fact-checking. Do this by clarifying through questions and, often, by simply spending time getting to know people. Learn to communicate, a large part of which happens simply through listening.

Also, purpose to slow down. Stop and think to try and prevent reacting based on assumptions. Look at any long-held beliefs, especially about people, and consider how assumptions may have grown into belief systems that simply aren’t accurate.

As I seek to recover from the demolishing of an inaccurate belief I’ve had for far too long about another person, I painfully understand how destructive assumptions can be. I am choosing to move forward by seeking out other assumptions that might also be operating in this way and by applying the truths from the Bible to help me move beyond them. I invite you to do the same in your life.