Don’t Make Assumptions: #3 of The Four Agreements
Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
It’s taken me a while to come to this topic since the last time I wrote about The Four Agreements, not because I didn’t know what to say – on the contrary, I will have to keep from saying too much! Anyway, my life journey recently required me to do some other things first. Yet all along this subject has been whispering in my ear so that I don’t forget that it wants to be addressed.
“Don’t Make Assumptions” is a big concept – meaning that, like Ruiz says, it “can completely transform your life”. For me, I know it has… though, admittedly, it’s been a slow process! It’s as though a seed was planted in my youth, and the plant that sprung forth demands frequent watering. And, by golly, this plant can be pretty thorny. “Don’t Make Assumptions” can mean so many things, such as having clear communication with yourself and with others, detaching from outcomes, ceasing what psychologists call projection, recognizing that you are capable of a limitless mind, and bringing awareness to ego perceptions and reactions (what Eckhart Tolle calls “the pain body” and what Buddhists refer to as “hooks”).
Making assumptions is something we do all day long from the time we awake to the time our conscious mind dozes off again – when we assume that sun will rise and will set like it always does. But what Ruiz is referring to in his phrasing about communication is the assumptions we make with the other people we encounter. We assume we get them and that they get us. We can especially fall into this trap with those closest to us. Sometimes we go so far as to assume they can read our minds because we think our way is the only way to think and/or because we’ve lived with and around them so long so we assume they should know us by now. Then we turn around and see them through the prism of our thoughts, project on them what we think about things, and assume we understand them.
The funny thing is that the only way we can see anything is through our own eyes – through our own experiences that lead to our assumptions. However, what Ruiz is cautioning us to do is to know this and to avoid projecting our perceptions onto others. When you avoid projecting your perceptions onto others, you are better able to detach from a potential emotional charge that might or might not be intended. Also, you aren’t jumping to any conclusions until you have listened with clarity – you have actively listened. To practice active listening requires you to listen with full attention, ask questions, and paraphrase/repeat what was said to check for clear understanding. When the other person agrees that you have understood them, the communication is less ambiguous and more harmonious. This is easy to talk about and makes perfect sense, but it is not always easy to do. It requires commitment to the cultivation of habit and loving, undistracted focus.
I like how Ruiz suggests that you find the courage to listen without making assumptions as well as to “express what you really want”. I interpret this to mean that we must not make assumptions that we are being heard in the way we mean to be heard. This requires responsibility for your “voice”, and if you are misunderstood, it means that the issue might be the other person’s miscomprehension or it might be your miscommunication. Don’t make assumptions about this either because that is only a distraction and can cause an artificial emotional charge for the egos involved, including yours. Instead, take responsibility because if the other person has miscomprehended, it means that you have, nevertheless, miscommunicated!
I can relate dozens of examples of how this agreement has challenged me and influenced my life, but I suggest that you, instead, sit with this concept and see how it works for you in your life. I will, however, share a light moment that really made an impression on me when I was young.
They say that it was typical for many X-Geners like me to have two parents who worked – that is if the two parents were still married. Well, in my case, I fit the description. My mom started working full time when I was in sixth grade. Being the oldest, I was in charge of my three siblings after school until my mom or dad got home. There were restrictions on playing outside or having friends over when the grownups weren’t there, so, after my brother, sisters and I finished our homework and house chores, we’d watch television. (Sociologists have a term for this phenomenon in American culture – they called us “latch key children”. Man, they sure can find a label for everything!) We didn’t mind a bit – we loved television. Probably too much! We’d watch re-runs of old shows like The Brady Bunch and The Odd Couple when the Tom and Jerry cartoons were over.
One of my earliest and fondest memories of learning about assumptions is from the television show The Odd Couple with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. There is a scene – I tracked this down over the internet – from an episode called, “My Strife in Court” in which Tony Randall’s character, Felix, is cross-examining a woman in court. Felix: You should never assume! Because, when you assume (scribbling on blackboard), you make an ASS of U and ME!
I can think of no better way to try to remember this one of The Four Agreements than to associate it to humor, and this funny breakdown of the word ASS-U-ME has been indelibly etched on my mind for more than 20 years now. It serves as a playful, yet important mental spanking (forgive the pun!) to help keep me spiritually disciplined. It always makes me laugh at myself and then move on.