Assumption/Noun/a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen without proof
It happens to all of us. We make a judgment about someone or something and expect things to play out the way we think they will. The dictionary definition given above says that we assume something to be true and expect it to happen without proof. And there’s the rub. We don’t have proof; we merely assume, based on our feelings, our faulty observations, even our prejudices. An excellent short story, “After You, My Dear Alphonse,” by the famous American writer Shirley Jackson, which I reread recently, made me think more seriously about assumptions.
In the story, Mrs. Wilson calls her son, Johnny, in for lunch. Johnny tells her he brought Boyd home for lunch. Boyd is carrying an armload of split kindling. When Mrs. Wilso turns to look at Boyd, she sees that he is Black. She tells Boyd, “You shouldn’t let Johnny make you carry all that wood.” Johnny doesn’t see why Boyd shouldn’t carry the wood. “It’s his wood. We got it at his place.” The boys had earlier used the wood in a game.
Mrs. Wilson asks Boyd if he’s hungry, and he says yes. “Well, don’t let Johnny stop you from eating,” she says, telling Boyd that Johnny is a fussy eater. “You just see that you get a good lunch.” She gives Boyd stewed tomatoes and says that Boyd “wants to grow big and strong,” adding that she’s sure Boyd’s father eats stewed tomatoes so he can be strong. Boyd tells her his father eats anything he wants. Mrs. Wilson asks concerning Boyd’s father, “Does he work?” Johnny is quick to tell his mother that Boyd’s father works in a factory. She then makes her point: Boyd’s father has to eat well because he needs to be strong to do all that “lifting and carrying” at a factory. Johnny pipes up quickly, saying that Boyd’s fatehr doesn’t have to do all that lifting and carrying because he’s a foreman.
Mrs. Wilson, defeated in that round, asks, “What does your mother do, Boyd?” Boyd says his mother doesn’t work. “She takes care of us kinds.” Mrs. Wilson registers surprise that his mother doesn’t work. Johnny reminds her, “You don’t work,” but he points out that Boyd’s sister will be going to work. “She’s going to be a teacher.” Mrs. Wilson presses on. “What about all your other brothers and sisters. I guess you want to make just as much of yourself as you can.” The youngster tells her it’s only he and his sister, Jean, and he doesn’t know yet what he wants to be.
Then comes the big moment. Mrs. Wilson takes a deep breath and offers Boyd some of Johnny’s clothes that are a little too small for him and a winter coat that still has a lot of wear left in it. And she has some dresses that Boyd’s mother can make over into things for all the family. She’ll make a bundle for Boyd and Johhn to take to Boyd’s mother “right away.” With a puzzled look, Boyd tells her he has plenty of clothes; moreover, he doesn’t think his mother knows how to sew. Well, this leaves Mrs. Wilson a little peeved. She says she knows a lot of boys like Boyd who would be “thankful someone would be kind enough to give them things.” Boyd apologizes, saying he didn’t mean to make her mad.
When Johnny and Boyd are outside after eating their lunch, Boyd asks Johnny, “Is your mother still mad?” Johnny says, “I don’t know. She’s screwy sometimes.” Boyd tells him, “So’s mine.”
I would agree that people are screwy on the matter of making assumptions about a lot of things. I’m reminded of the time my Buick Regal let me down and I headed for a Cadillac dealer and inquired about getting a small Cadillac, a move I had been considering. From the salesman’s attitude, I gathered he didn’t think I was the Cadillac type. I left him and went to a Volvo dealer. and went home with an adorable Volvo 850. Days later, when the Cadillac dealer got around to calling me to followup on my interest, I took great pleasure in telling him I had a new Volvo in my garage. Interestingly, there are two of us here who made assumptions. By the way, how many assumptions did Mrs. Wilson make?
Assumptions—people make them all the time, some good, some bad. One failsafe way to avoid making invalid assumptions is by always sticking to the instruction in Philippians 4:8, where we’re admonished to think on the things that are true, honest, of good report, and lovely.
“Your assmuptions are your windows on the world.
Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light
won’t come in.” Isaac Asimov
Thoughtful, as always. Important reminder and guidance as we navigate the current tricky waters.
It’s good that you’ve alluded to the problem with assumption in our current cultural stew. People aren’t taking the time to look for reasons and meanining behind what is being said or advocated. They jump to conclusions, to the detriment of others and social tranquility. I think we need to do better. Thanks so much for reading my post and commenting. I appreciate your kind words. JN
Hi Judith, I’m reading your blog from my hotel room in Paris, France. Last fall I made a commitment be a travel partner with a friend from church to visit her brother and family here. I ASSUMED I could do all the scheduled tours along with their energetic pace.
After only one week into a two week trip, my physical limitations won’t allow me to continue. They have resumed their travel adventures, but I’ve opted out, and will return back home sooner than planned.
I ‘assumed’ that I was capable to keep pace. All in all it’s been quite an adventure. I’ll share a couple of pictures in an email when I get back home. This is my wakeup call to get more physically active.
Well, hello Fartema! Imagine my blog being read in Paris! It’s like being published in a foreign language–at least in a foreign land. Maybe you can introduce my blog to some of your French encounters while you’re there. This is so great that you got out of your comfort zone and took the trip. Too bad that you had to cut it short, but I’m sure you had many happy and memorable moments. I’m looking forward to the pictures (you take such good pictures). Come back safely. Blessings, JN
R. Mark Ottley
Good morning Sr. Nembhard and others,
From the above story and comments, we may assume that all assumptions are negative. But don’t mathmaticians and scientists use “assumptions” to advance the work in their fields? Assumptions often lead to theories some of which are later proven to be false or sometimes true.
Hello Dr. Mark,
It’s great hearing from you. Yes, not all assumptions are negative. At the end of the post, I noted “good or bad” concerning assumptions. But for most of us in everyday life, we tend to assume the worst–even at times when we have a diagnosis from our doctor. Scientists make assumptions all the time. Sometimes they have to reconsider their conclusions. In our daily lives–in social interactions–the majority of our assumptions are negative, especially when they are about other people. Thanks for a good comment. JN
Ouida E. Westney
Dr. Judith: Thank you very much for this thought-provoking blog on “Assumptions.” A concern that I have regarding assumptions is the negative impact that false assumptions often have on interpersonal relationships. False and negative assumptions have frequently gone to the point of destroying previously positive relationships. In dealing with relationships, much care should be taken with regard to how negative assumptions are handled.
The effects of assumptions on relationahips aren’t hard to identify. My original draft mentioned families, government officials and church communities as being susceptible. I edited out this section, but they do take a toll in this area. Assmuptions aren’t all bad, but if one isn’t vigilant,they can wreak havoc on relationships. Thank you for pointing this out. I appreciate your comment. JN
This is the perfect website for everyone who hopes to understand this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want toÖHaHa). You certainly put a new spin on a subject thats been discussed for decades. Great stuff, just great!
Glad you liked the post. I hope you’ll check out some of the arcchived ones, and please check on the first of each month for a new post. Thanks for your comment. JN