Questioning assumptions

Have you ever seen people forging ahead with something, and not stopping to reflect on whether their assumptions are valid? Or, more likely, not recognising what their assumptions are, and not having the time and space to recognise them, or to take seriously any questioning from anyone else? Isn't it frustrating having a perfectly clear question, a perfectly good reason in one's own mind why that assumption needs to be questioned, but no one seems even to notice, let alone be ready to question it? Or have you recognised that you have been that one not stopping to question? This seems to be in the air for me at present, so I'm led to reflecting on that: how, or why, does that happen?

The potential reason? Well, of course, life is complex; everyone has their own way of simplifying it, with their own set of working assumptions for each context that they live in. If you ask someone to question their assumptions, you have to recognise that you may be asking them to make their own life more difficult. No wonder people can be reluctant.

This can easily happen around the mechanics of conversation. When people without much "hosting" awareness hold a meeting, quite often they are not aware of their own unconscious assumption that they are having a kind of board meeting with themselves in the chair. In that case, it takes others to point out what is to them obvious: that in a group of 20 people there isn't the space for everyone to be able to express what they bring to the party, let alone talk about it and have it integrated with others. Or, to take a related example, when people start a small online community – let's say a Discord 'server' – they are not aware of the assumptions that they are holding about this kind of system being 'the' way to enable people to communicate. Communication is a multi-faceted thing, however, and a Discord server, or a Slack instance, or whatever, while it is often fine for the purposes for which the system was originally designed, is not ideal for all kinds of interaction. So people who are still holding their assumptions may try to squash different kinds of communication into a container where it does not fit.

But, while it certainly can feel difficult for someone to confront their own assumptions, it can also be liberating. Often assumptions are based on old life experiences that are less than optimal, but the assumptions made life livable in a tricky, stressful situation. But then when life has moved on, sticking with the old patterns can become dysfunctional. It can take some gentle therapeutic-like skill to help people through these kinds of situation, giving them plenty of support alongside the challenge of giving up the ossified assumptions.

So there's some hope! I'd love people to ally with me in:

And before I leave this, time to make perfectly sure that you realise that I have unhelpful assumptions sometimes, too. I guess we all do. And that's how I would want to be treated. Be supportive and gentle, but don't duck the issue: call it out. AND, also, be aware of assumptions about assumptions – may we call those meta-assumptions? May we all be open to the possibility that what we see as an assumption in someone else may also imply an unhelpful assumption in ourselves.


Topics: Complex psychology


If you have any remarks on any of my posts, please send me e-mail, saying what you want me to do with your remarks. Are they private to you and me, or would you be happy to quote you (I will always attribute your words unless you ask me not to), and add your response (or parts of it) to the post it's about?