For a moment last week, much to my surprise, I thought I’d be taking home two stray kittens. Returning to my car in an empty lot I spotted said young cats rubbing heads together and looking utterly adorable. What were they doing there, far from any obvious home?
“Poor wittle kitties!” I went to mush and couldn’t help making kissy faces.
“Here fwuffy kitkins (honestly, what is it about furry animals that dissolves any/all self-composure?) want to come home with me?” I called. They broke from their canoodle and looked at me.
One backed away but the other wended towards me coyly, opening its mouth in a mew. “Yes, take me home,” my heart heard him say. He was clearly coming for a scratch behind the ear. Kiss, kiss, kiss, I blew.
As he got closer I realised he wasn’t quite as small as I’d thought. Then 10 feet away it became clear he wasn’t mewing, but hissing. The face that I’d assumed was innocently saying “rescue me”, was in fact growling: “Back off lady or I’ll eat your face!”
He was coming for a scratch behind the ear all right — mine! I literally ran to my car and sped away.
Lesson learnt, right? And not about the unpredictability of feral cats, but about myself and how quickly I can jump to conclusions. How often do I judge and misread situations and make assumptions — perhaps without ever knowing it?
Except in most cases, kittens aside, my judgments don’t tend to err on the side of generosity. My assumptions don’t generally start with “cute and cuddly” nor are particularly loving. When it comes to people I normally expect hissing, not mewing.
We all make judgments to some degree. It is our way of taking snippets of information and making meaning from them. We see something and fill in the blanks to give a situation reason — the kitten is walking towards me because it wants a cuddle.
But our brains are evolutionarily wired to keep us physically safe and out of danger so we tend to judge with caution, suspicion and assume the worst (except, in my case, when it comes to cats). These negative judgments and assumptions may have been useful for our ancestors surviving out in the wilds (cats in point), but what do they lead to in today’s world?
Someone cuts you off in traffic: they are a mean “bleep!”
A person doesn’t say “good morning”: they are disrespectful and rude.
You don’t get an invitation to something: they don’t like you, nobody likes you!
We can jump to these kinds of negative “stories” in response to scenarios, but are they helpful?
They are certainly good for justifying feeling angry or hurt but are they true? How do you know?
What is true is that making negative assumptions creates negative experiences, which benefits nobody.
So what can we do differently? Recognising that we’re making assumptions is a great first step. Learn to spot when you are jumping to a conclusion. Even if you’ve always assumed something, it still doesn’t mean it is true.
The next step is to seek other possibilities: what else could this situation mean or result from? Someone cuts you off in traffic: what if they didn’t see you? Perhaps their mind is elsewhere, maybe they are stressed and in a terrible hurry, etc. Might you ever have done such a thing? What were your reasons? It probably wasn’t personal so can we stop ourselves taking it as such.
If we really need it, rather than assuming a truth, why not ask for it? It takes courage, but to avoid wallowing in negative reaction to an assumed infringement, isn’t it better to ask and get the facts straight? This offers an opportunity to clear the air and take steps to repair relationships, if truly needed.
Recognising and questioning our negative assumptions can free us and others from their equally negative impact.
I’m not suggesting we don’t use caution or keep an eye out for dangerous situations (including wild beasts no matter how small and cute). I am hoping instead we use our better judgment. When we start to assume the best of people, we may be positively surprised by how they prove us right!
Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com.</i>